Oregon Officials Propose Killing Birds to Protect Salmon

Published July 12, 2012

Oregon Fish and Wildlife officials are seeking federal approval to kill protected marine birds to protect juvenile salmon. 

Harassment Not WorkingIn an April 5 letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Fish and Wildlife division administrator Ron Anglin reported current efforts to protect juvenile salmon through harassment of predatory birds is not working.

Cormorants are the main aviary threat to juvenile salmon in the region. Approximately 70,000 cormorants live west of the Continental Divide, and 28 states already have federal permission to kill cormorants to protect fish species.

Federal Legislation Introduced

Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) supported Oregon’s request by inserting language into a House Appropriations Committee bill authorizing state officials to kill birds of prey to protect salmon.

“Every year, Northwest residents pay nearly $1 billion to protect endangered salmon, only for them to be consumed by predatory birds,” Hastings said in a press statement. 

Multiple Options Considered

Research conducted by Oregon State University concluded predatory birds consume as many as 22 million, or 15 percent, of juvenile salmon each year as they swim down the Columbia River toward the Pacific Ocean. A colony of 27,000 cormorants nesting at the mouth of the Columbia River does most of the damage. 

At a March public hearing, the Army Corps of Engineers discussed a preliminary list of options for dealing with birds preying on juvenile salmon, including killing the birds and destroying their eggs. Other options discussed were hazing or frightening cormorants and cultivating more cormorant predators, such as eagles.

“This request to kill birds to save salmon is just another bizarre consequence of zealous but confused environmentalists meddling with the wilds instead of staying out of it all,” said Tibor Machan, a research professor at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. 

“This outcome is understandable only as a political result, and it was very predictable—even inevitable—due to the circumstances,” said Jon Boone, an environmentalist and wind power expert. “When you lay down with dogs, you often wake up with fleas.”

D. Brady Nelson ([email protected]) is a Milwaukee-based economist.