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One Good Tern Deserves Another

Nesting birds on some northern California wildlife refuges could soon find themselves the beneficiaries of some choice new island real estate, courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which plans to build four islands on refuge lands. But – don't tell the birds – the project is really meant to take the pressure off threatened and endangered salmon in the Columbia River Basin, where Caspian terns nesting on one of the few remaining natural islands have been feasting on the immature fish.

From 2001 through 2005, the birds ate an estimated 4.2 million juvenile salmon, trout, and whitefish a year from the Columbia River Estuary, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

After a century of development has drained the land and dried up most of the area's original nesting islands, refuge staff are hoping three new man-made islands – one at Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge and two at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge – can help the salmon's recovery and bring birds back to their old nesting grounds. Construction of the islands could begin as early as this fall.

"This is wonderful," says Ron Cole, refuge manager of the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges in Tulelake, Calif., which encompasses Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Refuges. The refuge lands, he says, have lots of fish species, including minnows and chubs, to support a bird population. "We have the fish. We just don't have the islands for the birds."

Making the refuges more hospitable to terns, says Cole, is in keeping with the land's natural history. "This refuge used to be incredibly rich with this kind of bird species. This was a vast array of natural wetlands before settlement. Most of that was lost when the area was drained so many years ago."

Contact: Ron Cole, Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 530-667-2231 or ron_cole@fws.gov.

Last Update: November 23, 2009

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