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Cormorant Control Options Weighed

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Five years ago, state researchers making a routine visit to Little Galloo Island on the eastern end of Lake Ontario found a virtual slaughter of cormorants. Hundreds of the birds, adult and chicks, had been shot and clubbed to death by fisherman irate about the number of sportfish the birds were eating. A story about the massacre in the Smithsonian magazine of this past February likened cormorants to "wolves in cattle country," and the fishermen quoted in the article were unrepentant.

Since the 1990s, the state department of Environmental Conservation has itself been destroying cormorants nests on Little Galloo and other eastern lake Ontario Islands. And eggs are oiled so they won't hatch. Those measures are allowed by a permit from The US Fish and Wildlife Service. The service has had authority over the birds since they were placed on the federal protection list in 1972. At that time, cormorant populations had been severely affected by the pesticide DDT, but in the 30 years since, the population has bounced back. Too far back for the fishermen.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has just finished a final Environmental Impact Statement on cormorant control and management across the country. It proposes six options. The public can comment on those alternatives for 30 days. After that, the federal government will publish its final rule on cormorants.

The state DEC has a favorite alternative, one that would give local authorities a more active role. Steve Litwhiler, a spokesman for the Watertown office of the DEC, said the preferred option would essentially allow his agency to continue its cormorant work, but under its own authority. (To submit comments or request a copy of the final EIS, e-mail: cormorants@fws.gov)

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Reported by

Martha Foley
News and Public Affairs Director

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