[Federal Register: November 8, 1999 (Volume 64, Number 215)]
[Page 60826-60828]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Migratory Bird Permits; Notice of Intent To Prepare an 
Environmental Impact Statement and National Management Plan for the 
Double-Crested Cormorant

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is issuing this notice to 
advise the public that we are initiating efforts to prepare an 
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and accompanying national 
management plan aimed at

[[Page 60827]]

addressing impacts caused by population and range expansion of the 
double-crested cormorant in the contiguous United States. This notice 
describes a range of possible alternatives, invites public 
participation in the scoping process for preparing the EIS, and 
identifies the Service official to whom you may direct questions and 
comments. Locations, dates, and times of public scoping meetings have 
yet to be determined.

DATES: We will publish the formal closing date for receiving scoping 
comments when the notice of public scoping meetings is published in the 
Federal Register. We anticipate Federal Register publication of the 
locations, dates, and times of public scoping meetings to occur within 
two months of this notice of intent.

ADDRESSES: If you wish to comment, you may submit your comments by any 
one of several methods. You may mail comments to: Chief, Office of 
Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. 
Fairfax Dr., Room 634, Arlington, VA 22203. You may also comment via 
the internet to: cormorant__eis@fws.gov. Please submit internet 
comments as an ASCII file avoiding the use of special characters and 
any form of encryption. Please also include your name and return 
address in your internet message. If you do not receive a confirmation 
that we have received your message, contact us directly at (703) 358-
2334. Finally, you may hand-deliver comments to: Room 634--Arlington 
Square Building, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Arlington, Virginia. Our 
practice is to make comments, including names and home addresses of 
respondents, available for public review during regular business hours. 
Individual respondents may request that we withhold their home address 
from the rulemaking record, which we will honor to the extent allowable 
by law. If you wish us to withhold your name and/or address, you must 
state this prominently at the beginning of your comment. However, we 
will not consider anonymous comments. We will make all submissions from 
organizations or businesses, and from individuals identifying 
themselves as representatives or officials of organizations or 
businesses, available for public inspection in their entirety. We have 
yet to determine potential sites of public scoping meetings. We will 
publish a notice of public meetings with the locations, dates, and 
times in the Federal Register.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Jon Andrew, Chief, Office of 
Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, (703) 358-
1714; or John L. Trapp, Office of Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service, (703) 358-1965.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax 
auritus) has been protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act since 
1972. Populations of this large fish-eating waterbird, which is native 
to all 48 of the contiguous United States, have increased dramatically 
during the past three decades. In many parts of the United States, this 
has culminated in conflicts with resources of value to humans.

Cormorants and Their Impacts

    The size of the North American breeding population of the double-
crested cormorant has been estimated at about 372,000 pairs, or 852 
colonies (Tyson et al. 1997). Using values of one to four non-breeding 
birds per breeding pair yields an estimated total population of 1-2 
million birds (Hatch 1995). The double-crested cormorant breeds widely 
throughout much of the coastal and interior portions of the United 
States. It has been found breeding in 46 of the 48 contiguous United 
States. However, it is not uniformly distributed across this broad 
area. Sixty-one percent of the breeding birds belong to the Interior 
population and it is the fastest growing of the six major North 
American breeding populations (Hatch 1995). From 1970-1991, in the 
Great Lakes region (American and Canadian), which lies within the range 
of the Interior population, the number of double-crested cormorant 
nests increased from 89 to 38,000, an average annual increase of 29 
percent (Weseloh et al. 1995). For the contiguous United States as a 
whole, the breeding population increased at an average rate of 6.1 
percent per year from 1966-1994 (Sauer et al. 1996).
    Cormorant wintering populations are concentrated in coastal States, 
from North Carolina to Texas in the east and from California to 
Washington in the west. In the south, there also are appreciable 
concentrations inland from the coast (e.g., east Texas, eastern 
Oklahoma, southeastern Arkansas, west-central Mississippi, and 
northeastern Alabama). Cormorants nesting in Canada and the northern 
United States from Alberta to the Gulf of St. Lawrence (i.e., the 
Atlantic and Interior populations) migrate in winter primarily to the 
southern United States between Texas and Florida.
    Cormorants have been implicated as being responsible for: (1) 
Economic losses at commercial aquaculture facilities; (2) damage to 
trees and other vegetation associated with breeding colonies and 
roosting sites; (3) impacts to other species of migratory birds in the 
vicinity of cormorant breeding colonies; (4) declines in economic 
revenues associated with outdoor (primarily fishing-related) 
recreational activities; (5) declines in populations of sport fish; and 
(6) lowering of private property values.

Past Management Actions

    Formal efforts by the Service and others to control double-crested 
cormorant populations date to the 1940s. Since 1972, we have issued 
depredation permits to persons who can document injury to ``crops or 
other interests'' by migratory birds, including cormorants (50 CFR 
21.41). In the last decade, requests for depredation permits to control 
damages caused by double-crested cormorants have increased 
    In response to published evidence of significant economic losses at 
commercial aquaculture facilities due to predation by double-crested 
cormorants, we implemented a depredation order on March 4, 1998 (63 FR 
10560). The depredation order allows commercial aquaculturists in 13 
States to take unlimited numbers of double-crested cormorants ``* * * 
when found committing or about to commit depredations to aquaculture 
stocks * * *'' (50 CFR 21.47).
    In early spring 1999, we received applications for permits to 
conduct cormorant control activities at Little Galloo Island, Lake 
Ontario, New York (oiling of eggs in up to 7,500 nests); and Young 
Island, Lake Champlain, Vermont (oiling of eggs in up to 3,000 nests). 
Environmental Assessments of the proposed actions concluded that they 
would have no significant environmental effects, and permits were 
subsequently issued (USFWS 1999a and b).
    The Atlantic States Legal Foundation (ASLF) challenged the issuance 
of a permit to the New York State Department of Environmental 
Conservation in United States District Court in a complaint filed 
August 16, 1999. The ASLF argued that our decision to issue a permit in 
this instance was a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the 
National Environmental Policy Act and was arbitrary and capricious.
    Although the District Court has taken no action on the ASLF 
complaint, the action highlights the need for scientific inquiry into 
the nature of the problems caused by double-crested cormorants and an 
assessment of the utility of management actions most likely to resolve 
resulting conflicts.

[[Page 60828]]


    After the scoping process, we will develop alternatives to be 
included in the EIS, basing them on our mission and the comments 
received during scoping. Examples of alternatives that we might 
consider range from ``No Action'' to ``Large-scale Population Control 
on Breeding Grounds, Wintering Grounds, and Migration Areas in the 
United States.''
    As a precursor to the national management plan, the Service has 
contracted for the development of a cormorant status assessment. A 
draft is currently under review. Availability of this document for 
public review will be announced at a later date.
    We are soliciting your comments on issues, alternatives, and 
impacts we might address in the EIS. Of particular value will be 
comments that: (1) Identify and, where possible, quantify impacts 
caused by increasing cormorant populations; (2) suggest management 
strategies to resolve such conflicts; and (3) identify determining 
factors in justifying the need for control, if any.

Issue Resolution and Environmental Review

    The primary issue that we will address during the scoping and 
planning process for the EIS is to determine which alternatives for 
managing double-crested cormorant populations we will analyze. We will 
prepare a discussion of the potential effects, by alternative, which 
will include the following areas:
    (1) Double-crested cormorant populations and their habitats;
    (2) Other bird populations and their habitats;
    (3) Effects on other species of flora and fauna; and
    (4) Socioeconomic effects.
    We will conduct an environmental review of the management actions 
in accordance with the requirements of the National Environmental 
Policy Act (NEPA), as appropriate. We are furnishing this notice in 
accordance with 40 CFR 1501.7 to obtain suggestions and information 
from other agencies, tribes, and the public on the scope of issues to 
be addressed in the EIS. A draft EIS should be available to the public 
in the spring of 2000.

Public Scoping Meetings

    A schedule of public scoping meetings is not available at this 
time. We encourage suggestions of potential dates, times, and locations 
for the meetings. We will then publish notice of the meetings in the 
Federal Register.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited herein is available from 
the Office of Migratory Bird Management (see ADDRESSES section).

    Dated: October 26, 1999.
Jamie Rappaport Clark,
Director, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 99-28814 Filed 11-5-99; 8:45 am]