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Army Corps Won't Kill Gulls To Help Salmon-Eating Terns


East Sand Island is home to the world's largest colony of Caspian terns, but the colony has failed to reproduce in recent years because of attacks on their nests by gulls.

East Sand Island is home to the world's largest colony of Caspian terns, but the colony has failed to reproduce in recent years because of attacks on their nests by gulls.

Vince Patton

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has decided that it is not going to continue killing gulls that have been preying on baby Caspian terns at a nesting colony at the mouth of the Columbia River.

The point of the environmental assessment issued today was whether the continued failure of the tern colony on East Sand Island to produce young would drive the birds to return to another island upstream, where they consumed millions of baby salmon. The Corps was considering killing another 150 gulls to prevent the tern colony from moving inland.

Corps spokeswoman Diana Fredlund says as long as the terns stay near the ocean on East Sand Island they will eat a mixture of fish – not just threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead. Her agency concluded the terns are not likely to move their colony, even with the gulls attacking their babies, so no action is needed.

“We don’t believe, based on the new research we have, that they will leave East Sand Island,” Fredlund said. “And if they’re not going to leave East Sand Island, they’re not likely to have greater predation in the estuary where we’re trying to protect young salmon coming downstream. Our primary focus is predation on the fish.”

Bob Sallinger of Portland Audubon says the situation points out how complicated it is getting to protect salmon from natural predators, when the real problem is the dams on the Columbia.

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