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Court Rules Corps Can Continue Killing Cormorants

A federal district court judge found the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers broke the law in approving a plan to kill cormorants on the Columbia River, but he allowed the plan to go forward.

In his ruling, Judge Michael Simon said the agency failed to consider alternatives before deciding to kill the birds, which prey on juvenile salmon and steelhead. However, he also ruled that the agency can continue killing the birds because it helps threatened and endangered fish.

"We are extremely disappointed," said Bob Sallinger of the Portland Audubon Society, one of the plaintiffs in the case. "The courts have found the decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to kill cormorants was illegal, but have allowed them to continue killing anyways.”

Sallinger says his group may appeal the ruling. The Corps plans to shoot around 11,000 birds to stop them from eating salmon on the Columbia River.

The Corps says at its peak, the cormorant colony on East Sand Island at the mouth of the Columbia numbered around 30,000 birds that were eating an average of 11 million juvenile salmon and steelhead a year.

Bird advocates have protested the Corps' plan to kill the birds, arguing that the real problems for salmon are created by the dams upriver.

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Three cormorants on East Sand Island
Vince Patton /
Three cormorants on East Sand Island