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Corps of Engineers wants to shoo salmon-munching cormorants away from East Sand Island in the Columbia River

By Quinton Smith
OregonLive.com

What happens when you kick thousands of voracious birds out of their homes? Biologists struggling to manage a huge colony of salmon-eating cormorants in the Columbia River estuary want to find out.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposes to shrink the nesting area of double-crested cormorants on East Sand Island by two-thirds this spring to see whether some birds will leave and then track those that do.

But Oregon and Washington worry that the cormorants will simply scoot over to coastal bays and devour endangered salmon and steelhead there.

Debate between federal and state biologists working on the bird issue has become "a bit contentious," said Sondra Ruckwardt, a corps manager overseeing the work on East Sand Island. "No one wants them in their backyard."

The cormorant problem also illustrates the difficulty of trying to save fish protected by the Endangered Species Act when their greatest predator is protected by another, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

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