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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 3, 2013

Contacts:
Steve Lewis, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 612-713-5473
Susie Vance, Ohio Division of Wildlife, 614-265-6335
Jason Lewis, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, 419-898-0014
Carol Bannerman, USDA-Wildlife Services, 301-851-4093

Final Supplemental Environmental Assessment Released on Double-crested Cormorant Management in Ohio

Federal and state agencies today released the final supplement and Decision and Findings of No Significant Impact for a 2006 environmental assessment (EA) on double-crested cormorant damage management in Ohio. After reviewing analyses in the 2006 EA and 2013 Supplement and public comments, the agencies have chosen to continue implementation of the current program. Minor adjustments will be instituted in compost testing as described in the supplement.

Wildlife Services, a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, was the lead agency in developing the EA. The Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife were 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 provides 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, and 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 NWR, Green Island, Turning Point Island, Grand Lake-St. Mary’s and Portage Lakes.

Ohio cormorant populations increased from no breeding pairs in 1991 to 5,164 pairs in 2005. From 2006-2012 an average of approximately 3,860 cormorants were killed annually in Ohio under a Public Resource Depredation Order, mostly to address damage the birds were causing to habitat.  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 NWR because higher cormorant concentrations cause habitat destruction.  Ohio’s only designated wilderness area, West Sister Island NWR currently hosts one of the largest and most diverse nesting colonies of herons and egrets in the U.S. portion of the Great Lakes, as well as one of only 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 depredation order must have landowner permission, may not adversely affect other migratory birds or threatened or endangered species that occur at or near cormorant management sites, 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 under the depredation order and regular population monitoring.  

Copies of the 2006 EA, 2013 Supplement and Decision/FONSIs 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.

 

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

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Last updated: December 3, 2013