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WILDLIFE: Groups sue to block killing of cormorants
By Frederic J. Frommer
Associated Press

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."

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