WILDLIFE: Groups sue to block
killing of cormorants
By Frederic J. Frommer
WASHINGTON - A coalition of animal welfare groups sued
the federal government Thursday trying to block new rules
allowing for the killing of double-crested cormorants.
Double-crested cormorants, which are large, dark birds,
live throughout North America, with the highest U.S. populations
on the Great Lakes. They were nearly wiped out by DDT
in the 1960s and '70s, but they have made enough of a
comeback to pose a threat to commercial fishing and fish
farming, proponents of the new rules say.
Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed,
and issued a rule allowing state, federal and tribal officials
in 24 states, including Wisconsin and Minnesota, to kill
the birds to prevent decimation of fish populations.
The service also expanded an earlier rule, which had
authorized fish farms to kill birds who threaten their
business, to allow federal officials to kill such birds
at their winter roosting sites.
Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, birds such as cormorants
cannot be killed unless authorized by the federal government,
which is responsible for managing their populations.
The Fund for Animals, the Humane Society of the United
States, Defenders of Wildlife and the Animal Rights Foundation
of Florida filed their suit Thursday in federal district
court in New York City.
"Cormorants, like many other birds, eat fish to
survive, and should not be punished for doing what comes
naturally," said Michael Markarian, president of
The Fund for Animals.
"Writing a blank check to kill tens of thousands
of protected birds at any time and any place is an extreme
knee-jerk reaction to placate the sport fishing and commercial
fish farming industries."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to comment
on the suit, citing policy against speaking about litigation.
In a news release announcing the decision last year, the
service estimated the North American population of the
cormorants was 2 million.
The suit argues that the Fish and Wildlife Service failed
to justify the new rules.
"The scientific evidence clearly indicates that
double-crested cormorants are, by and large, not responsible
for declining sport fish populations," said Bette
Stallman, a wildlife scientist with the Humane Society.
But Rep. Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat who has
proposed a hunting season for cormorants, disagreed.
"They should talk to people in Lake of the Woods
who have had islands destroyed," Peterson said, referring
to a resort area on the Minnesota-Canada border. "What
these birds do is eat two to three times their weight
of fish in a day. They are very deadly predators."
"They're a big nuisance, and there are no natural
predators to control them," he added. "They've
been spreading too."
Bill Horns, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Great Lakes fisheries coordinator, was out of the office
Thursday and could not be reached for comment. But he
told the Green Bay Press-Gazette last year that the department
might not ever kill cormorants.
"We'll have to work through some kind of process,"
he told the newspaper. "That will entail some significant
costs we can't really afford right now."