2004-05-07 / Columnists

On The Bayfront

By Elisa Hinken

Bringing wild birds under some sort of population management is a noble act in theory. We have tons of Canadian Geese who have never VISITED Canada!

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (D.E.C.) is undertaking the daunting task of trying population control methods on the Cormorant. Cormorants are large brown birds with a large wingspan often seen diving into the waters in search of fish or standing on posts drying their wings. Apparently there are problems on the horizons with these birds. I have not come across large nesting areas of these birds but I am not necessarily looking for them myself either. However, if we should have problems controlling them (they are non-stop fish eaters, threatening our recreational fishing as well as a major food source to humans), we know that the D.E.C. is already handling this matter at a great urgency in upstate New York. I always thought Cormorants preferred salt water, but I soon found out that isn’t the case at all!

Cormorant populations have increased markedly across New York in recent years, likely a result of a cleaner environment and fewer pesticides causing reproductive problems. Large nesting colonies are a sight to behold, but high densities of nesting cormorants are not without problems. In Lake Champlain, located upstate between New York and Vermont destruction of vegetation on nesting islands in Vermont by cormorants threatens populations of common terns, a threatened species. On Oneida Lake, cormorant occupation of islands also threatens survival of the common tern. In addition, thousands of cormorants stopping over during the fall migration have raised concerns about their effect on ecologically and economically important fisheries. And in the eastern basin of Lake Ontario, cormorants have been found to be a significant predator of small mouth bass, which is a native, economically important species.

The D.E.C.’s mission includes a responsibility to manage fish and wildlife resources for the benefit of current and future generations. It is not an easy job, and often requires balancing of competing interests to find the course of action that will do the most good with the least harm. The profession of wildlife management has grown in sophistication in considering the human side of the equation, and also pays attention to social and economic issues and considers people’s values and desires in developing their management plans. The D.E.C. is currently involved in a series of cormorant studies and management activities with their counterparts in other states, universities, the federal government and Canada. Sound science is at the base of their investigations, and requires that they keep an open mind, document their observations and learn from experience.

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