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Cormorant cull begins

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OPP enforcing perimeter around Middle Island

Sharon Hill

The Windsor Star

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

CREDIT: Parks Canada handout

A cormorant in flight.

The shooting of double-crested cormorants on Middle Island began Wednesday afternoon.

The cull began one day after a federal court decision denied an injunction requested by two animal protection groups. The cull is expected to last until early next week.

"They're shooting right now," Julie Woodyer of Zoocheck Canada Inc. and Cormorant Defenders International said via cell phone Wednesday as she watched the cull from a boat. "The level of disturbance is absolutely shocking."

Woodyer said she could see thousands of egrets, great blue herons and cormorants flying above the island. She was concerned the startled birds could lose their nests and eggs to other birds.

Woodyer said the shooting started at about 2 p.m. and she was still hearing shots by 4 p.m. She said she couldn't see the birds being shot or dead cormorants from her location.

She described the scene of startled birds as "mass chaos" and she sounded upset each time she saw the birds, including those not being culled, take off from the trees. "It's disturbing."

Point Pelee National Park superintendent Marian Stranak said the park has five to seven days to hold the cull. Trained park staff will be aiming at adult breeding cormorants that don't have chicks or eggs that are more than two weeks old. Trees have been marked so shooters can avoid cormorants resting on well-developed eggs.

Stranak said there is no target number of cormorants for this year's cull. Each day's activity depends on the weather, the nesting season and the availability of the OPP officers, who are needed to alert boaters to stay out of a 1.6-kilometre perimeter around the island. Stranak said the cull may continue today, since Wednesday was not a full cull day. After that, the plan is to conduct the cull every other day.

This is the first year of a multi-year program to reduce the population by thousands of breeding cormorants. Parks Canada wants to reduce the colony from 4,026 nests to between 438 and 876 nests in five years.

Stranak said the cormorants killed Wednesday will be collected and sent to the Canadian Wildlife Service for toxicology research. Other cormorants will be left where they fall because picking up all the dead birds, weighing five to seven pounds, would damage the vegetation the cull is trying to protect, she said.

Boaters were warned by the radio marine channel to stay away from the island that is south of Pelee Island in Lake Erie. The OPP has a boat in the area and could lay charges of trespassing in the zone, obstructing police or mischief if someone tries to interfere with the cull, said OPP spokeswoman Const. Janet Hayes.

The media is not be allowed to observe the shooting.

Parks Canada said it needed to cull some of the cormorants because their guano is killing vegetation and hurting the Carolinian ecosystem.

Boycott planned

A grassroots organization is asking visitors to stop going to Point Pelee National Park in an attempt to get Parks Canada to reconsider shooting cormorants next year.

The Peaceful Parks Coalition based in Toronto will be outside the park gates May 10 and May 18 telling people about the cull on Middle Island and asking people to boycott the park. The park manages the Lake Erie island.

May is the park's peak spring birdwatching season and coalition campaigner AnnaMaria Valastro said she's hoping hitting the park's finances will get Parks Canada to reconsider future culls.

Valastro said during the peaceful protests, the group will suggest birdwatchers visit other sites in Essex County or wear black arm bands if they go in the park. "We don't think they deserve public support."

On May 18, the group is planning to be at other sites in Ontario including the Leamington dock, and Rondeau and Long Point provincial parks to tell people about the boycott.

Valastro has already been outside the park gates talking to visitors.

Park superintendent Marian Stranak said she hasn't heard from visitors that there is anything different this year from last year. May is the park's busiest month with about 20,000 to 30,000 visitors. Stranak said the park will have information on the cull for visitors.

The Peaceful Parks Coalition doesn't have paying members but has a circulation list of 650 people, Valastro said.

© The Windsor Star 2008

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