Dozens of protesters rallied outside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Portland Tuesday, calling for federal officials to stop killing cormorants on the Columbia River.
They carried signs with pictures of the black seabirds with yellow beaks and banners calling for officials to "fix the dams" and "end the slaughter."
Federal agents have killed more than 4,500 cormorants in the past two years to keep them from eating threatened and endangered juvenile salmon.
“As we speak, federal agents are out in boats killing cormorants, shooting into clouds of birds; birds falling out of the sky, crashing into the water,” said Bob Sallinger conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland. "They're doing this because they claim it's necessary to save salmon."
Sallinger disputed the federal agencies' conclusion that they need to shoot around 11,000 adult cormorants to protect millions of juvenile salmon and steelhead in the Columbia. The agencies say the birds eat 11 million salmon in an average year.
Sallinger says the agencies are blaming the birds for problems that are actually caused by dams.
"We want a solution that's good for fish and good for birds and addresses the real cause of salmon decline," he told the crowd gathered in Portland.
A U.S. district judge recently rejected the federal government's strategy for protecting Columbia River salmon. Killing cormorants is part of that plan. The decision adds pressure on the agencies to revisit their controversial cormorant management plan. This year, opponents with a group called SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) has gone out on the river to video-record agents with U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services agency shooting the birds.
Amy Echols, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, says her agency is reviewing the court decision but doesn't currently plan to stop killing cormorants.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Michael Simon called on the federal government to do a whole new environmental review of how dams affect salmon on the Columbia. He noted that reconsidering their options for protecting salmon could lead the agencies to the conclusion that they don't need to kill cormorants.
"It's going to take some time to analyze and fully understand the judge's ruling," Echols said. "We're not going to stop our management actions at this particular moment."
Another lawsuit filed by the Audubon Society of Portland calls for a separate court ruling on the legality of the cormorant management plan, Echols said. But that case hasn't been decided yet.
"Until we get direction from the court to halt our management activities, we will continue under our permit," she said.