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Lawsuit seeks to stop government from killing Oregon birds

By Shelby Sebens
Reuters Business Insider

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - Five conservation and animal welfare groups have filed a lawsuit to stop the federal government from killing thousands of native birds on an Oregon island in the name of saving salmon, activists said Tuesday.

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - Five conservation and animal welfare groups have filed a lawsuit to stop the federal government from killing thousands of native birds on an Oregon island in the name of saving salmon, activists said Tuesday.

The groups, which include the Audubon Society of Portland, filed a lawsuit on Monday in U.S. District Court against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the USDA Wildlife Service, criticizing the agencies’ plan to kill 11,000 double-crested cormorants to save declining salmon.

The groups argue the federal government is ignoring the real threat to salmon, management of hydroelectric dams. They also argue the government failed to use non-lethal methods of cormorant control on East Sand Island in the Columbia River, and said killing the birds will do little to save the salmon.

"We see this as a giant diversionary tactic," Audubon Society of Portland Conservation Director Bob Sallinger said. "They scapegoat birds while they continue to ignore the primary cause of salmon decline.”

The government’s plan to kill the birds came after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released an opinion last year calling for a decrease in the bird population from about 13,000 breeding pairs now to just under 6,000 or fewer by 2018.

Federal officials say the birds are eating the juvenile salmon and putting the fish population at risk. Many juvenile salmon and steelhead trout are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Officials said earlier this year they planned to start culling in the spring but it was unclear if that has started.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Anna Harris said the agency was aware of the lawsuit but could not comment. The other two agencies could not be reached for comment.

Sallinger called the killing of the native birds "disgraceful" and said the agencies plan to also file an injunction to stop the killing, which includes the destruction of up to 26,000 nests, while the lawsuit makes its way through the courts.

"I think the word slaughter here is truly appropriate,” said Sallinger, who said the killing will hurt the sustainability of the bird population. “We're talking about federal agents on boats blasting cormorants out of the sky with shotguns.”

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