Is this an ethical form of wildlife management? (Spring 2008)
In the spring of 2004, the McGuinty government began shooting thousands of nesting double-crested cormorants at Presqu’ile Provincial Park near Belleville Ontario on Lake Ontario. To date, the Ontario government has killed over 10,000 birds at Presqu’ile alone, and has killed thousands more in the Georgian Bay and North Channel region of Lake Huron by oiling cormorant eggs in nests. Egg oiling is death by suffocation to the unhatched chicks.
The birds are being systematically eliminated from the Great Lakes basin by a joint concerted effort by state, federal and provincial fish and wildlife government agencies simply to appease an irate sport fishing lobby that have long accused the bird of eating too many fish.
In some cases, such as the Point Pelee National Park or Presqu’ile and East Sister Island Provincial Parks, government agencies argue that double-crested cormorants are “destroying” trees and ground vegetation, and must be killed to “preserve biodiversity”. This argument is being made across the southern Great Lakes where cormorants typically nest in trees. See vegetative impacts of cormorants. On Lake Huron, cormorants typically nest on the ground on isolated small rock islands. Lake Huron egg oiling study.
Government fish and wildlife agencies will apply whichever argument best suits the situation (fish depletion or habitat destruction) to justify the killing of cormorants to win over public support. However, the prominent rationale for eradicating cormorants in any area is to remove a top aquatic predator that is perceived to compete with anglers for sport fish.
Because double-crested cormorants are migratory birds, plans are currently underway to kill cormorants cooperatively across jurisdictions and international borders. Partnerships between the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment Canada and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are investigating more efficient methods to kill cormorants throughout their migration route or ‘flyway’ leaving no place safe for these birds anywhere.
In just three short years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have shot over 56,000 cormorants. In Ontario, an additional 10,000 birds were shot – a total of over 66,000 birds killed by gunfire.
Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Yet these culling operations are having little effect on the overall population.
Source: Canadian Wildlife Service
Veterinarian and volunteer examine wounded cormorant at Presqui'le Provincial Park in 2006.
The bullet wound was too severe to save the bird.
Like wolves, the double-crested cormorant is being scapegoated for political reasons – to appease an aggressive sport hunting and fishing lobby. But Premier Dalton McGuinty has absolutely no scientific evidence to support his allegations that cormorants are ecologically destructive. Here are some “straight-shooting” facts about cormorants:
- Double-crested cormorants are a North American migratory bird native to Ontario.
- They nest on the Great Lakes in the spring and summer, and winter in the southern United States.
- They are black birds typically found in large nesting colonies ranging from several hundred to several thousand birds. Their colonies are typical of other colonial waterbirds found throughout the world. The large dense colonies during nesting periods serve as a natural barrier against predators that feast on cormorant eggs and chicks. These predators include other colonial waterbirds such as gulls and herons. Populations are self-regulating once colonies become too dense.
- The largest colony in North America is found on the Columbia River estuary in Washington State at 15,000 nesting pairs. The largest recorded colony was in Baja, Mexico at 300,000 birds in 1913.
- While their colonies may be dense, colonies are not numerous across the Great Lakes.
- They prefer to nest on isolated islands, both on the ground and in trees.
- Tree nesting cormorants will eventually kill the host tree through the deposit of their guano. The process of killing trees prematurely is a naturally occurring process found throughout the natural world. Beavers kill trees by damming creeks and flooding forest areas. Natural wildfires also kill trees. These trees eventually become “snags” providing habitat for a different array of wildlife such as woodpeckers and den dwelling mammals. Snags eventually breakdown into soil.
- Thirty years ago, these birds were on the verge of extinction on the Great Lakes. Toxic pollution almost wiped them out. As a result, toxic chemicals such as DDT and PCBs were banned.
- Double-crested cormorants are currently reoccupying their ecological role within the Great Lakes system.
- Cormorants feed exclusively on live fish and are considered to be a skilful predator.