Minnesota Cormorant NEPA
Final Minnesota EA on Cormorant Management Released;
Leech Lake Band to Initiate Local Control Efforts
Federal, state and a tribal agency released a final Environmental Assessment (EA) on double-crested cormorant management in Minnesota, after considering comments submitted by more than 100 individuals and groups during a public review process. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services program was the lead agency on the EA; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Leech Lake Reservation Division of Resources Management (DRM) were cooperating agencies. The EA considered five alternatives for cormorant damage management in Minnesota.
Following the publication of the final EA, the Leech Lake DRM announced its decision to cull up to 80 percent of the cormorants from a colony nesting on the tribally owned and managed Little Pelican Island on Leech Lake. This specific control action was examined extensively in the draft EA, and likely will take one to three years to complete. Wildlife Services, FWS and the Leech Lake DRM each signed a Finding of No Significant Impact on April 29, clearing the way for the cormorant control program on Leech Lake.
The final EA proposes to implement the Integrated Wildlife Damage Management alternative to reduce damage associated with double-crested cormorants to property, aquaculture and natural resources, and cormorant-related risks to public health and safety in Minnesota where a need exists, a request is received, and landowners grant permission. Under the proposed alternative, when appropriate, physical exclusion, habitat modification or harassment would be used to reduce double-crested cormorant damage. In other situations, cormorant numbers could be reduced by shooting, egg oiling or destruction, nest destruction, or euthanasia following live capture. The other alternatives considered were a non-lethal control approach, an alternative that would continue current cormorant damage management activities, and two alternatives that limit federal government involvement in cormorant damage management in Minnesota.
The number of cormorants that nest on Leech Lake increased from 73 pairs in 1998 to 2,524 pairs in 2004. There is mounting biological evidence that the increasing cormorant numbers have negatively affected walleye and yellow perch populations. DNR fisheries managers on Leech Lake have documented a marked decrease in yellow perch and a decrease in production of young walleye starting around 2001. These changes coincide with the cormorant population increase and also with the spatial distribution of cormorant predation on Leech lake. Tribal biologists are also concerned that the cormorants may be displacing the common tern colony that also nests on Little Pelican Island. Common terns are a state- and tribally listed threatened species and a species of special concern for the FWS.
In conjunction with the cormorant population reduction, the Leech Lake DRM, DNR, Wildlife Services and researchers from the University of Minnesota have initiated stepped-up research programs to better establish how cormorants might be impacting the lake's walleye and perch fisheries. Researchers are cooperating on a diet study to get a better handle on the types and numbers of fish cormorants are consuming. This research is being funded through a Tribal Wildlife Research Grant from the FWS. DNR biologists are also conducting a mark-recapture study on marked walleye fry to establish the level of natural reproduction in the lake. Results from these studies will be used to refine cormorant population goals for Leech Lake.
Cormorants are protected by a 1972 amendment to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which gave FWS primary responsibility for protecting cormorant populations in the United States. Federal regulations published in 2003 established a Public Resource Depredation Order, which allows federally recognized tribes, the USDA Wildlife Services program, and state agencies in 24 states (including Minnesota) to control cormorant populations when they have evidence of damage to public resources (fisheries, vegetation, and other bird species).
Copies of the EA, the agency FONSIs, and the biological evaluation for listed species are available below. Printed copies of the EA are available upon request from the Minnesota Wildlife Services Office, 34912 US Highway 2, Grand Rapids, MN 55744 or from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Migratory Birds, 1 Federal Drive, Fort Snelling, MN 55111.