Monday, May 30, 2005

ENV: Whole lotta killing going on . . .

At least four places are using permitting processes in attempts to ease bird-human conflicts. As might be expected these efforts are causing an uproar among certain environmental and/or animal rights groups . . .

Gulls in Virgina, from The New York Times

Advocates for Animals Oppose Virginia Plans to Shoot Gulls

NORFOLK, Va., May 28 (AP) - State transportation officials thought they were doing a good thing when they provided a nesting area along a major highway for several threatened species of birds.

But after five years, the nests have attracted more than just the threatened terns and black skimmers. Their predators, sea gulls, have come out in droves and are crashing into cars on a stretch of Interstate 64 that connects Hampton and Newport News to Norfolk and Virginia Beach via a bridge and tunnel.

Last summer, up to 60 gulls died on the highway every day.

Concerned about the potential for serious car accidents, the state Department of Transportation has called on wildlife officials to shoot some of the 5,000 gulls on the south island of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel on I-64. The highway carries more than 100,000 cars a day in peak summer months.

Animal rights advocates say that shooting the birds will not work and could make things worse.
John W. Grandy, the senior vice president for wildlife programs at the Humane Society of the United States, called the move "ecologically shortsighted."

"As long as the island provides habitat for terns and skimmers, it will provide habitat for gulls," Mr. Grandy wrote in a letter to Gov. Mark R. Warner, adding that it was likely more gulls would move onto the island next year.

That remains to be seen, said Martin Lowney, state director of Wildlife Services, a division of the United States Department of Agriculture. The gulls that remain after the agents finish up in the next week or two will stay for the summer, Mr. Lowney said.

"Next year they may not come back," he said.

Mr. Grandy suggests using nonlethal methods to get rid of the sea gulls, like dispersing them with dogs or recorded calls of gulls alerting others to danger.

Mr. Lowney said: "The dog was tried. The dog got worn out. Once the dog lay down, all the birds came back."

Recorded calls are not particularly effective on sea gulls, he added.

Agents will shoot at the 1,000 or so gulls nesting less than 100 feet from the interstate, Mr. Lowney said. A concrete wall will keep travelers safe during the shooting.

Common and gull-billed terns have been nesting on the eight-acre island since the 1970's, Mr. Lowney said. State transportation officials have an agreement with the College of William & Mary to help manage the nesting area for them and the black skimmers.

Environmental regulators list common terns and black skimmers as "birds of conservation concern," and Mr. Lowney said gull-billed terns were endangered.

Vultures in New Braunfels, from The San Antonio Express-News

New Braunfels buzzards targeted
Roger Croteau, Express-News Staff Writer

NEW BRAUNFELS — The city is done playing around with the flocks of vultures that roost in Landa Park.

Officials expect to start a program of trapping and killing the unwanted residents next week, according to Park Ranger Superintendent Roger Dolle.

The black vultures are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Act. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services has a permit granted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to kill a certain number of buzzards every year, said Wildlife Services biologist Vivian Prothro.

"We are getting involved with vultures more and more as we speak," she said. "They tend to take up residence. When there are so many concentrated in one area, it can become a health and safety threat."

The vultures' droppings could cause a lung infection called histoplasmosis or other diseases and could easily be washed into the Comal River, which runs through the park and is used by thousands of swimmers and tubers every day during the summer.

Dolle said more and more of the black vultures have taken up residence in Landa Park. He estimated about 200 live there year-round, with more passing through during their annual migration.

"We have such an unlimited food source with all the trash and barbecues and picnics, it's a big buffet out there for those guys," he said.

Dolle said the parks office gets complaints that the buzzards are unsightly, but that is not the main reason they've got to go.

Their droppings and vomit cause an unsanitary condition near the Comal Springs. And the birds vandalize park equipment, pulling out the rubbery expansion joints around the park pools and tearing up foam-covered pool features, including the large turtles and squirting mushrooms in the kiddy pool.

Gary McEwen, district supervisor for Wildlife Services, said his office hopes to start the trapping next week and has offered to take the first 50 birds using its permit. Though the USDA is trapping the first 50 birds, the city will apply to the Fish and Wildlife Service for its own permit to trap more, he said.

He said relocating the buzzards is not a viable option, so the birds will be shot.

"We attempted relocating them a number of years ago," McEwen said. "We relocated 3,500 of them and found it's not a practical solution. Some found their way back, and the others created more problems where we took them."

Dolle said the trap, a large chicken coop-like structure baited with carrion, will be in a discreet location, away from park visitors.

He said park employees have tried scaring away the birds using lights, sirens, air horns and noise cannons, with no success.

Frequent park visitor Joe Clayburne said he's noticed the flocks of buzzards for years.

"There is an inordinate amount of them here, but I've never seen them be a problem. I imagine they make a mess wherever they roost," he said.

McEwen said he has gotten complaints from animal rights activists about vulture removal operations in the past.

"Anything you do in this world, anything, there's going to be somebody opposed to it," he said.

Cormorants in Ohio, from The Toledo Blade

Explosive growth of cormorants in lake is a problem
May 22, 2005

The explosive growth of populations of double-crested cormorants in western Lake Erie has become a winged black plague, to the point where state and federal wildlife managers are maneuvering to take action.

These large, black fish-eating waterbirds have all but destroyed all the vegetation of Middle Sister, East Sister, and Middle islands on the Ontario side of the western basin, and their booming population on West Sister Island in Ohio waters threatens the most important colonial wading bird colony on the Great Lakes.Experimental culling of up to 500 cormorants is under way this year with an eye toward an all-out control program later.

"It would be irresponsible for us as an agency not to react to the damage on those islands," said Mark Shieldcastle, head of the state's Crane Creek Wildlife Research Station in Ottawa County.

A survey on West Sister last year showed some 3,700 nesting pairs of cormorants, a quantum leap from an already overabundant 2,600 pairs in 2003. This year's census is not complete.

Compare that to just 185 pairs in 1991, when cormorants first reappeared after being gone for almost a century. Their populations all but disappeared from the Great Lakes because of chemical contaminant pollution, which interfered with their reproduction. On the 17-acre Green Island, a state wildlife area, 20 pairs a year ago has blossomed to 600 pairs this year. Turning Point Island at Sandusky Harbor has another several hundred pairs, and Mercer State Wildlife Area in Mercer County has 50 pair.

This spring and summer the Ohio Division of Wildlife, in cooperation with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, has begun a three-year study to cull 500 cormorants from West Sister under a USF&WS collecting permit for study the recovery rate of vegetation in cormorant-free plots.

Two years ago state wildlife agencies were given the authority by the federal government to control cormorant populations where evidence of damage could be scientifically established. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture has not yet completed an environmental assessment that would clear the way to issue a control or depredation order. Shieldcastle expects the assessment to be done by the fall.

"We really need that to issue a depredation order." The goal is to allow no more than 3,000 nesting pairs of cormorants at three colonies - West Sister and Turning Point on the lake, and at Mercer wildlife area. West Sister's cormorant colony alone already vastly outnumbers the projected statewide goal.

The plan is to take up to 10 percent of the birds from each colony, which would be allowed without additional review under a favorable USDA assessment, "and more if we can justify it."

West Sister is the nesting home to about 40 percent of the colonial wading birds in the Great Lakes, including rookeries for great blue herons, great egrets, black-crowned night herons, and snow egrets. All are threatened by the cormorant explosion.

"We will definitely be using that depredation permit next year," Shieldcastle said. The Ohio Division of Wildlife ultimately wants to keep tiny Green Island cormorant-free.

In addition, the western basin is threatened further by transient or migratory cormorants.

"Western Lake Erie is becoming a major staging area between August and October for some unidentified populations," Shieldcastle said, noting that the migrants may number anywhere from 25,000 to 100,000 and may originate elsewhere around the Great Lakes and even from the Prairies.

Many of these transient birds sit on the edges of the islands. Their feces, or guano, is nitrogen rich and virtually burns up vegetation chemically and otherwise covers and chokes it.

Working with the USF&WS, the state wildlife division plans to initiate a hazing project at West Sister to discourage transient birds, after a study confirms suspicions.

Rocket-propelled nets initially would be used to capture a sample of transients, and they would be equipped with radio "backpacks" to establish where and how they move and how long they stay.

On the fishery side of the equation, federal biologist Mike Bur plans to cull 600 cormorants next year from three of the stressed islands - East Sister and Middle in Canadian waters, and West Sister in Ohio.

Complications arose in getting the project under way this season, but Bur said he plans on starting in 2006, taking 20 birds from each of the three colonies every two weeks then studying their stomach contents.

Bur is supervisor of the Lake Erie Biological Station of the U.S. Geological Service's Great Lakes Science Center.

He said that the expanded diet study is necessary "because the dynamic of this [lake's] fish community has changed because of the gobies. We know they eat gobies."

Gobies are an invasive pest fish from overseas that have exploded in the lake.

Roger Knight, Lake Erie programs coordinator for the wildlife division, said that cormorants "absolutely are an issue throughout the Great Lakes. They have far exceeded their historical densities."

"I am concerned about sport fish stocks, like smallmouth, because of the proximity to cormorant colonies. Smallmouth are not a migratory fish species." Knight's office had requested the recent diet analysis by Bur's crews.

Nonetheless, he is all for Bur's more intensive diet study in 2006, noting the need to "plan, monitor, track, and evaluate what you're going to do." Wildlife managers are mandated by law to demonstrate the science behind their management moves, and the threat to valuable fisheries in western Lake Erie has been much more difficult to scientifically demonstrate than terrestrial damage to the islands.

"We're not about eradicating [cormorants]," Knight said," "but about managing them at levels that are not detrimental to terrestrial and aquatic organisms and habitats."

And cormorants in Texas, from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Texas Finalizes Cormorant Control Permit

AUSTIN, Texas — Local areas in Texas besieged by the double-crested cormorant, a federally-protected bird more commonly referred to as the water turkey, can get depredation relief under a new Texas Parks and Wildlife Department control permit program.

The permit gained approval from the TPWD Commission at its Aug. 26 public meeting and will be available to individuals and local entities later this fall.

The department estimates there may be around 2,000 cormorant-control permits issued in Texas in the first year. Permits cost $12 and allow holders or their designated agents to kill cormorants on specific tracts of land. Permit holders will be required annually to report the number of cormorants killed.

The double-crested cormorant is a long-necked, long-lived waterbird that nests in colonies, meaning they tend to congregate in one area where present. Federal biologists estimate there are 2 million double-crested cormorants in the U.S., mostly breeding in Canada and the Great Lakes, making it the most abundant of six cormorant species in North America. Cormorant numbers have increased by about 7.5 percent per year since 1975. The birds eat mainly fish, up to one pound per day, usually smaller (less than 6-inch) bottom-dwelling school or "forage" fish.

The Texas cormorant control permit does not apply to several similar birds, including Gulf-coast natives such as the neotropic cormorant, the anhinga and other fish-eating birds such as kingfishers, cranes and herons.

Federal authorities say more study is needed to verify how cormorants affect fish populations, which fluctuate based on water quality, habitat and other factors. However, recent research at Oneida Lake in New York and eastern Lake Ontario suggests that cormorants can diminish the number of fish of catchable-size available to anglers.


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