Reducing Cormorant Population To Save
WCCO Minneapolis/St. Paul
Published March 17th, 2005
Duluth, Minn. (AP) Crews could start shooting thousands
of cormorants and sterilizing their eggs on Leech Lake
this summer as state and federal wildlife agencies try
to mitigate the effect of the birds on the walleye population.
Lee Pfannmuller, director of ecological services for
the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said efforts
could include rubbing vegetable oil on eggs. Adults will
continue to sit on the eggs and won't try to re-nest,
but the eggs never hatch.
A proposal to thin the population of the lake by thousands
of birds was made in January and on Wednesday the U.S.
Department of Agriculture released its environmental assessment
The federal government will ask for public to comment
over 30 days on a range of alternatives from doing nothing
to using nonlethal methods of reducing the population
of the birds, which eat about a pound of fish each day.
However, the federal government's preferred plan is to
reduce by about 80 percent the number of nesting pairs
on the lake from more than 2,500. The birds are normally
protected by federal law.
"The preferred alternative's goal is to have fewer
than 500 nesting pairs on Leech Lake," said Rachel
Levin, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
in the Twin Cities.
The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe will take the lead on the
project with cooperation from the Minnesota DNR federal
Agriculture Department's animal damage control unit, which
do the work.
Various methods have tried to control the numbers of
the native birds, which have made a remarkable comeback
in the past 20 years across the Great Lakes and Canada
after DDT nearly wiped out the species.
Wildlife officials have tried to scare them away from
their nesting grounds, but it didn't work. Last year crews
tried to remove nesting materials from the birds' island
"but their numbers still doubled," said John
Ringle, fish and wildlife director for the Leech Lake
There were nearly 10,000 cormorants on Leech Lake last
year, including juveniles and non-nesting adults, nearly
all of which nest on Little Pelican Island, located on
Leech Lake band property.
The fish consumption of the birds is blamed by some angry
anglers and tourist businesses for the depletion of the
lakes once-famous walleye population. By some estimates,
the birds could be eating more than a ton of fish a day.
"It's clear we have a problem. I fish the lake a
lot and there aren't any smaller walleyes out there. Something
is taking them out," Ringle said. "We know cormorants
eat some walleye and perch. We don't know how much. ...
But the fact the big drop in walleye hit at the same time
the cormorants are increasing can't be just a coincidence."
Officials said they weren't sure the big black birds
were the main culprit for the walleye decline, but they
had enough evidence to act.
"There's compelling enough evidence with the fisheries
decline and the tern situation to warrant some strong
action," Pfannmuller said.
An international migratory bird treaty protects the birds,
but a 2003 federal rule allows states to take action to
deplete the flocks if they are harming natural resources.
In Minnesota, the rule allows up to 7,500 of the 16,000
birds in the state to be killed.