FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 28, 2013
Carol Bannerman, USDA-Wildlife Services, 301-851-4093
Vicki Ervin, Ohio Division of Wildlife, 614-265-6325
Jason Lewis, Ottawa Nat. Wildlife Refuge, 419-898-0014
Steve Lewis, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 612-713-5473
Public Comment Invited on Draft Supplemental Environmental Assessment for Double-crested Cormorant Management in Ohio
State and federal natural resources agencies are seeking public comments on a supplement to a 2006 environmental assessment (EA) that lays out a plan to manage damage caused by double-crested cormorants in Ohio.
The Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service and its Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Wildlife Services, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife have prepared a supplement to the plan to reduce damage from double-crested cormorants in five Ohio locations. Wildlife Services is the lead agency for the EA and supplement; the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Ohio Division of Wildlife are cooperating agencies.
The original EA guides implementation of an Integrated Wildlife Damage Management approach to reduce damage associated with double-crested cormorants, to natural resources, property, aquaculture, and cormorant-related risks to public health and safety in Ohio. Management occurs where a need exists, a request is received, and landowners grant permission. The supplement to the EA provides information on implementation of the program since its start in 2006 and proposes updates to the management program.
The current program uses non-lethal methods such as physical exclusion, habitat modification or harassment to reduce cormorant conflicts. Where necessary, lethal methods are also used, including shooting, egg oiling or destruction, nest destruction, or euthanasia following live capture.
Double-crested cormorants are large, fish-eating birds that nest in colonies and roost together in large numbers. A reduction in eggshell-thinning pesticides (primarily DDT), increased protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and abundant food resources caused cormorant numbers and distribution to increase greatly in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Conflicts with human and natural resources, including impacts on commercial aquaculture, private property, recreational fisheries, vegetation and other waterbirds that nest with cormorants, and risks to human health and safety, led to a decision by the cooperating agencies in Ohio to develop a damage management strategy for the species.
The EA and Supplement cover damage management measures statewide. The primary areas for damage management efforts include West Sister Island, Green Island, Turning Point Island, Grand Lake-St. Mary’s and Portage Lakes.
Ohio cormorant populations increased from no breeding pairs in 1991 to a high of 5,164 pairs in 2005. From 2006-2012 an annual average of approximately 3,860 cormorants were removed for the protection of public resources. The statewide cormorant population ranged between 3,279 and 3,973 pairs during 2006-2010, spiked to 5,302 pairs in 2011 and then dropped to 4,038 pairs in 2012.
The cooperating agencies are working to maintain a cormorant population of 1,500-2,000 breeding pairs on West Sister Island because higher cormorant concentrations cause habitat destruction. Ohio’s only designated wilderness area, West Sister Island currently hosts one of the largest and most diverse remaining nesting colonies of herons and egrets in the U.S. portion of the Great Lakes, as well as one of two remaining breeding colonies of black-crowned night-herons in the state.
In 2003, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued regulations allowing more flexibility in the management of double-crested cormorants where they are causing damage to aquaculture stock and public resources such as fisheries, vegetation and other birds.
The regulations established a Public Resource Depredation Order, which allows state wildlife agencies, tribes and Wildlife Services in 24 states, including Ohio, to conduct cormorant damage management for the protection of public resources. Without this depredation order, agencies and individuals would need a federal permit to use lethal methods to manage cormorant damage.
Agencies acting under the order must have landowner permission, may not adversely affect other migratory birds or threatened or endangered species, and must satisfy annual reporting and evaluation requirements. The Fish and Wildlife Service ensures the long-term sustainability of cormorant populations through oversight of agency activities and regular population monitoring.
Copies of the EA and Supplement on double-crested cormorant damage management may be downloaded from the regulations.gov web site http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2013-0062 or the Fish and Wildlife Service’s web site at http://www.fws.gov/midwest/midwestbird/cormorant.html. Hard copies may be obtained by contacting USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services, 6929 American Parkway, Reynoldsburg, OH, 43068, phone: (614) 861-6087.
Written comments on the Supplement will be accepted through August 2, 2013. We request that all comments on the EA be sent to the address listed for USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services or submitted electronically on the regulations.gov web site above. When faxing a comment, a copy should also be mailed to ensure that a complete version of the text is received.All comments received, including the names and addresses of those who comment, will be part of the public record and will be released for public review as required and allowed by law.
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