By Nicole Rivard

On #NationalWildlifeDay, we should be holding humans accountable for the decline of threatened species. Today is the perfect time to spread the message that killing one species to conserve another is detrimental to wildlife.

While human-induced changes to animals’ habitats are certainly a bad thing, once they happen, animals need to be able to sort it out themselves.

More human interference just makes it worse.

“To halt the decline of an ecosystem, it is necessary to think like an ecosystem.” Douglas Wheeler, conservationist, lawyer

Unfortunately, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers were incapable of doing that when it came to trying to help juvenile salmon who migrate down the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington.

Instead in 2014, the federal agencies began to shoot double-breasted cormorants as they foraged for food over water and cared for their eggs and young in nesting areas at East Sand Island, scapegoating these native fish-eating birds for salmon declines. 

All the while, they ignored the major threat to salmon: mismanagement of the federal hydropower system. Dams block passage of fish to and from their riverine spawning and rearing habitat and the Pacific Ocean. according to an article in Earth Island Journal. At dams where fish passage is not provided, the blockage is permanent.

Earlier this month several media outlets reported what Friends of Animals knew would happen from the get-go—the federal plan backfired.

The federal government killed thousands of cormorants in Oregon between 2015 and 2017, and may have caused the collapse of the birds’ largest breeding colony. However, Oregon state biologists say the birds just moved upriver—possibly tripling the number of salmon each bird ate.

Prior to this development, a court order procured by the Audubon Society of Portland required FWS to turn over documents related to its decision to slaughter cormorants. It was discovered that scientists from the agency concluded that killing the seabirds would provide no benefit to the fish, and that high-level employees of FWS suppressed that information throughout the public review process.

FoA had filed a lawsuit in 2015 with Audubon to stop the cormorant killing. And while a federal district court ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acted unlawfully by failing to consider alternatives to killing double-crested cormorants, it still allowed the continued massacre of cormorants.

Notably, cormorants flourished on East Sand Island because of humans in the first place—the Corps dumped tons of sledge there, inadvertently creating an ideal habitat for the seabirds.

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not everyman’s greed.” – Mahatma Gandhi

In a situation all too similar to the cormorant case, USFWS launched its horrific barred owl removal experiment in 2013 in Oregon, Washington and northern California. It stuck its head in the sand about why northern spotted owls are threatened—humans logging the forests they call home—and as a result hundreds of barred owls have been killed.

And all for naught.

Federal wildlife researchers killed 883 barred owls from 2015-17, and the latest “progress” report says: Initial experimental removals of Barred Owls had little measurable effect on occupancy and reproduction of Spotted Owls after the first 1–2 years of implementation. Long-term observations of territory occupancy and reproduction of Spotted Owls illustrated historically low levels in 2017 in all study areas.

FoA is currently litigating for barred owls.

“Until humans duplicate a blade of grass, nature can laugh at his so-called scientific knowledge.” Thomas Edison.

Our national wildlife is counting on FoA to keep holding these agencies feet to the fire and to prevail, especially as climate change pushes more animals into each other’s overlapping territories.

The public should be concerned that agencies will continue to manage species who migrate to new habitats as a result of climate change and other man-made causes in a way that is intended to protect only the species who previously lived there. This will mean a lot of killing of more migratory species.

As a society we cannot become numb to the use of killing animals as a tool to manage nature or to humans overall being involved in every aspect of the lives of wild animals. It’s time to butt out before it’s too late.

As author Barbara Ward said, “We have forgotten how to be good guests, how to walk lightly on the earth as its creatures do.”

Nicole Rivard is editor of Friends of Animal’s quarterly magazine Action Line. She brings 22 years of journalism experience to the front lines, protesting and documenting atrocities against animals.