Army Corps to kill thousands of wild birds

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By Simon Gutierrez, KPTV

PORTLAND, OR -- At the Wildlife Center of the North Coast, volunteers work to save Oregon seabirds like the double crested cormorant - they have two right now.

"They're tough little creatures. Eagles don't even like messing with the cormorant so much," said Josh Saranpaa of the WCNC.

People here were sickened to hear that, beginning over the holiday weekend, the Army Corps of Engineers has started a program to "cull" the birds. It's management plan calls for shooting thousands of adults, and pouring vegetable oil over nests with eggs to suffocate them.

"I think it's barbaric," Saranpaa said. "I don't think they should be killing them."

East Sand Island, just off the coast of Astoria, is home to the largest breeding colony of double crested cormorants in North America with nearly 13,000 birds. The Army wants to cut that number to right around 5,000.

The whole operation is designed to protect salmon, which are the cormorants' favorite snack, and are an endangered species.

"They eat all the babies," fisherman Brant Tarabochia said of the cormorants. "They don't get along too good with fishermen."

Most fishermen in Astoria, like Tarabochia, support what the Corps is doing.

"They gotta do something about them because there's thousands of them," Tarabochia said. "We see thousands of them every day."

But the Wildlife Center, along with groups like the Audubon Society, think it's the wrong approach. They even filed a lawsuit to stop it, arguing salmon would be better helped by changes to the Columbia's dams.

But they lost, and now they're living with the harsh reality of Army Corps' management plan.

"It doesn't seem like something the military should be doing, wildlife management," Saranpaa said.

The Army Corps' plan is also to protect steelhead, which are similar to salmon. Right now, the agency isn't letting anyone actually see what they're doing.

The management plan will be carried out over the next four years.