FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 22, 2002
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will host a public meeting on Tuesday, February 5, in Jackson, Mississippi to gather comments and discuss its recently released draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on double-crested cormorant management in the United States. The meeting will be held at the Clarion Hotel and Convention Center, 400 Greymont Avenue, Jackson, Mississippi. The meeting will begin promptly at 6:00 p.m.
The meeting is one of 10 public meetings being held in eight states and the District of Columbia to gather public input on double-crested cormorant management issues. Last month, the Service extended the public comment period on the draft EIS by six weeks. The new deadline for public comments is February 28, 2002.
The draft EIS analyzes various options for managing rapidly growing cormorant populations in order to reduce conflicts with recreational fishing, commercial aquaculture, and other birds and natural resources.
“We encourage the public to attend these meetings or to comment on the draft environmental impact statement in writing. Public input is vital as we craft a management strategy that ensures healthy cormorant populations while reducing conflicts with humans,” said Tom Melius, the Service’s Assistant Director for Migratory Birds and State Programs.
Cormorants have been federally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act since 1972, a period when their populations had dropped precipitously due to use of the pesticide DDT, killings by humans and the overall declining health of many ecosystems. Today, the population is at historic highs, due in large part to the presence of ample food in their summer and winter ranges, federal and state protection, and reduced contaminant levels.
Most double-crested cormorants in the Southeast Region are wintering migrants from the Interior (Great Lakes and northern Plains) and Atlantic (eastern Canada and the northeastern United States) populations. Historically, non-migratory populations of cormorants have occurred from Florida and other southern states north to North Carolina, while in recent years Cormorants have started breeding again in states such as Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Currently, breeding colonies exist in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The total number of nesting pairs in this population is greater than 13,600 pairs.
Over the last few decades, numbers of wintering cormorants have dramatically increased in several southern states. Since the late 1970s, wintering cormorants have increased in the Mississippi Delta from an average of 30,000 in the winters of 1989-93 to greater than 55,000 in the winter of 1996-97. Data from Christmas bird counts conducted between 1959 and 1988 show annual increases ranging from 3.5 to 18.7 percent in several states within this region, with the largest increases occurring in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
The population resurgence of double-crested cormorants has led to increasing concern about the birds’ impact on commercial and recreational fishery resources. The draft EIS evaluates six management alternatives, including such options as continuing or expanding current management practices, implementing only non-lethal management techniques, issuing a new Depredation Order to address public resource conflicts (the Service’s proposed alternative), reducing cormorant populations at a regional level, and establishing frameworks for a cormorant hunting season.
The Service’s proposed action would establish a new Depredation Order authorizing state, tribal, and federal land management agencies to implement a double-crested cormorant management program, while maintaining federal oversight of populations via reporting and monitoring requirements to ensure sustainable populations. Control activities carried out under this new depredation order would take place on public and private lands and waters where double-crested cormorant populations are having a negative impact on public resources such as fish, plants and other wildlife. Under this action, the 1998 Aquaculture Depredation Order would continue to allow cormorants to be taken at commercial freshwater aquaculture facilities and State-owned fish hatcheries in 13 States and would be expanded to include winter roost control by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services Program in those States. A Service regulation prohibiting lethal control of cormorants under most circumstances at National Fish Hatcheries would be revoked.
The Service invites the public to comment on the draft EIS at these meetings and in writing. Written comments must be received by February 28, 2002. Comments may be mailed or delivered to the Division of Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Room 634, Arlington, Virginia 22203.
Requests for copies of the DEIS should be mailed to Chief, Division of Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Room 634, Arlington, Virginia 22203. For further information, call the Division at (703) 358-1714.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
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