Public Comment Invited on a New Environmental Assessment for Double-crested Cormorant Management in Michigan
Federal agencies are requesting public input on a new Environmental Assessment (EA) regarding Double-crested Cormorant damage management in Michigan. The new analysis will replace an EA completed in 2004 and supplemented in 2006.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Wildlife Services prepared the EA in cooperation with the Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the Bay Mills Indian Community, and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians were consulted during preparation of the EA.
The proposed management alternative would use an integrated wildlife damage management approach to reduce cormorant damage to property, aquaculture and natural resources, as well as cormorant-related risks to public safety. Physical exclusion, habitat modification or harassment would be used, when appropriate, to reduce damage. In other situations, birds may be humanely removed by shooting, egg oiling/destruction, nest destruction or euthanasia following live capture.
The proposed alternative is similar to the current management program but increases the maximum number of cormorants that may be lethally removed from 10,500 to 20,000 birds per year. It requires a minimum of 5,000 breeding pairs of cormorants be allowed to remain in the state. Other alternatives considered include:
Eliminating the annual limit on the number of cormorants that could be removed for the protection of public resources as long as at least 5,000 breeding pairs are allowed to remain in the state;
Continuing the current damage management program;
Limiting federal agencies to nonlethal damage management methods; and
Eliminating most federal involvement in cormorant damage management.
The EA provides details on specific sites where concerns exist regarding cormorant impacts on fish populations including the Les Cheneaux Islands, Thunder Bay, Big and Little Bays de Noc, the Beaver Island Archipelago, St Mary’s River, Naubinway and Paquin Islands in Mackinac County, Tahquamenon Island in Chippewa County, and the Ludington Pumped Storage Project.
The preferred alternative allows for the continuation of the program in which volunteers working with Wildlife Services use harassment and limited shooting to decrease the number of cormorants in areas where fish populations appear to be particularly vulnerable. This approach has been used with apparent success at Drummond Island, Brevoort Lake, Big Manistique Lake, South Manistique Lake, Indian Lake, Long Lake and Grand Lake.
The EA also considers cormorant damage management on South Manitou Island, within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, to protect the white cedar trees from damage by nesting cormorants. The National Park Service considers the ancient cedars in the Valley of the Giants on the island to be a distinctive and valuable plant community.
In 2003, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued regulations allowing more flexibility in the management of double-crested cormorants where they are causing damage to aquaculture stock and public resources such as fisheries, vegetation and other birds. An extension to the order was completed in 2009. Without this depredation order, agencies and individuals would not be able to use lethal methods to manage cormorant damage without a federal permit.
Cormorant damage management may not be conducted at a site without landowner permission, may not adversely affect other migratory bird populations or threatened or endangered species, and must satisfy annual reporting and evaluation requirements. The Fish and Wildlife Service will ensure the long-term sustainability of cormorant populations through oversight of agency activities and regular population monitoring.
Copies of the EA may be downloaded at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife_damage/nepa.shtml.
Hard copies may be obtained by contacting USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services, 2803 Jolly Rd., Suite 100, Okemos, MI 48864, (517) 336-1928 or FAX (517) 336-1934.
Written comments on the EA will be accepted through June 16, 2010. Written comments should be submitted to the above address for USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services. When faxing a comment, a copy should also be mailed to ensure that a complete version of the text is received.