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Cormorant forum slated for tonight

July 9, 2010
By Tim Kobasic

ESCANABA - There will be a public forum this evening designed to receive input on the plan for the US Fish & Wildlife Service to increase the annual depredation orders regarding the double crested cormorant from 10,500 to 21,000. The current allocation is not working and the species remains so prolific, it may injure its own population by overgrowing the habitat needed for support.

State Representative Joel Sheltrown, Chairman of the Michigan House -Natural Resources Committee, will open and moderate the session at 6:00 p.m. ET at Bay College in Escanaba.

Also attending the meeting will be Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (MDNRE) Wildlife Division Chief Russ Mason. Both men will answer questions on the plan.

Last April we were supposed to see the start of a cormorant control program along the shores of Lake Michigan. Dave Westerberg of Escanaba has been appointed as the coordinator of detail for the western Upper Peninsula.

Westerberg is co-founder of the Bay deNoc Great Lakes Sport Fishermen which remains frustrated with the lack of support seen to date by government agencies, in particular, the US Department of Agriculture that oversees the US Fish and Wildlife Services.

The concentration of cormorants in the upper Lake Michigan region is believed to be the heaviest concentration of the species in the nation. Moreover, the impact of the birds is close to devastating certain species of prey fish as well as the areas occupied for habitat.

Some lethal method controls on cormorants have been successful in the eastern U.P. The Straits Area Sportsmen's Club initiated a shooting program several years ago. Cormorant populations continue to exist, however their numbers are in check which means the recovery of affected fisheries.

The delay experienced this spring is cause for the Michigan Legislature to become involved and, based on public input, use their influence to help persuade the increased harvest allocation.

There has been no indication this means Michigan will front the cost either. The control of the cormorant is a federal responsibility and therefore should be federally funded. To suggest the residents pay the cost is not appropriate. It's bad enough the USDA wants to oversee the MDNRE while they do the work. Moreover, we simply don't have the money in the State's General Fund to foot the bill and to suggest it come out of the MDNRE Fish and Game Fund would cripple state run programs.

If Michigan does fund the estimated money needed to run the program, there would be a good chance the federal government would see it as an opportunity to withdraw the allocation requested.

No, the dollars have to come from the Fed's.

If successful, the area control volunteers would be reimbursed for costs they incur in carrying out the program. Their time and travel are donated but the cost of fuel and ammunition will either have to come from direct funding or donations.

A very small segment of the general public has voiced opposition to the program, using sensational accusations that those wanting to control cormorants want to "wipe them out". That speculation is far from the truth and proof remains in the programs underway in the east.

In talking to members of the eastern team working the Brevort Lake area, residents of the area support the concept so well they offer refreshments to shooters as they set out to do the work. They see the damage to environment when nesting birds leave sites baron and contaminated and the later benefits of controls.

The issue is no longer about an endangered species of wildlife, it is about helping control a runaway population of birds that have rapidly become an outright nuisance.

One other consideration is once the southern migration begins, those cormorants that make it as far as the gulf will add to the crisis being experienced from the BP oil spill.

Returning cormorants will take up residence in existing wetlands and not only compete with many other struggling species of waterfowl, they'll be adding to the loss of essential habitat.

The hearing is open to the public. No prior notice is required to attend or speak at the event. Those unable to attend the hearing can submit written testimony by e-mail to Representative Sheltrown at:

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Tim Kobasic is outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications and the Internet Saturday mornings.



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