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For Past Decade, State DEC & Local Anglers Have Used Fed-Approved Methods to Keep Invasive Cormorant Bird Population In Check At Oneida Lake But Local Measures That Have Worked So Well Are Set To Expire At End Of June

Without Permission To Continue Current Efforts That Preserve Lake & Fish, Local Officials Would Be Forced To Endure Extensive And Unnecessary Federal Permit Process That Would Result In An Increase Of The Cormorant PopulationAnd Significant Damage to Fish Stocks and Rel

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to extend its current order that allows the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to work with local anglers to control the invasive and ecosystemdamaging double crested cormorant bird population on Oneida Lake. If left unchecked, doublecrested cormorants wreak havoc on the lake's ecosystem and tourist infrastructure by consuming many of the fish that sport fishermen typically target. Schumer explained that the cormorant bird population has been under control at Oneida Lake, but only because FWS has approved humane population control measures that have kept cormorant birds from taking over the lake. However, approval for these effective population control measures is set to expire at the end of the month. According to Schumer, if the current process for controlling the cormorant bird population expires, the DEC would be forced to undergo an arduous federal approval process that could take more than 30 days to complete, which would sideline local anglers who help identify realtime movements of the bird and execute hazing operations to drive the birds away. This, in turn, would open the door for thousands of cormorant birds to descend on Oneida Lake this summer.

Since many local anglers and over 1,000 touristrelated businesses depend on Oneida Lake, Schumer is pushing FWS to allow the current process to continue indefinitely. Moreover, because the cormorant population increased last year, Schumer said his push is even more urgent in order to maintain the integrity of Oneida Lake.

"It makes no sense for federal red tape to put the kibosh on this effective effort to rid the lake of this nonnative bird that does so much damage to our invaluable recreational fishing industry. And that is why I am strongly urging the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service to continue indefinitely the locallypermitted and humane birdcontrol strategies now employed by local anglers and the DEC. When something works you should make it easier to do - not erect arbitrary and counterproductive barriers," said Senator Schumer. "For the thousands of New Yorkers who rely on Oneida Lake for their livelihood, for anglers, and for summer recreation, the return of the invasive and fishdevouring cormorant bird population is a troubling thought. These nonnative birds damage the ecosystem and hurt tourism by decimating the local fish population. These population control measures have worked well, and there is no reason to establish a new, arduous federal approval process that could allow the cormorant bird to return and throw the future of Oneida Lake into jeopardy."

"The official position of the Board of Directors and 3,000 members of the Oneida Lake Association is that we strongly support the current cormorantcontrol process. OLA was one of the stakeholder groups that helped create the current process and we are in favor of its renewal. Senator Schumer is spot on when it comes to ensuring the current method stays in place, longterm. In the past, OLA members have joined forces with the DEC, using approved methods to keep this bird in check. Any new process would give the advantage to the cormorant and spell trouble for the lake, anglers and businesses. Moreover, should the DEC ever require local anglers to assist in hazing, OLA members would be unable to volunteer to help unless the current process stays in place. We support Senator Schumer's push to ensure our lake stays full of walleye, yellow perch and bass to name a few," said Matthew Snyder, Vice President, OLA Board of Directors.

"The Senator's support for sustaining proven methods is welcomed," said Scott Shupe, president of OLA. "The interests of our members and constituents may be at risk if unproven alternative methods are inadequately vetted, or if new programs are framed in a manner that precludes OLA from assisting an agency if needed, for instance volunteering in the spring or fall hazing efforts."

Current FWS regulations that allow local groups, under state supervision and sponsorship, to engage in cormorant control measures will sunset at the end of June 2014. Under the current arrangement, local state DEC officials and Oneida Lake Association (OLA) members cooperatively engage in regular and humane cormorant control practices - sometimes referred to as "hazing" methods. These methods include pyrotechnics and other nonlethal alternatives that force cormorants to pass quickly through Oneida Lake during migration, instead of lingering and damaging the ecosystem and tourist infrastructure. This year, because of the spike in cormorants, local DEC experts will not solicit angler volunteers for hazing, but they will still require anglers to help assess Oneida Lake conditions. Moreover, Schumer said, should DEC decide to bring back the angler volunteer program in the future, the current process would need to be preserved.

If the FWS order that permits this arrangement and the local DEC control expires, as it is set to at the end of June, it would require a lengthy federal approval process in order to haze the cormorant bird population. According to Schumer, if the order expires and a new federal approval process is implemented as a result, the cormorant birds, which are set to descend on Oneida Lake over the course of the coming months, will take over the lake before the federal approval process or the hazing can be completed.

Schumer explained that FWS is currently considering whether to permit this humane hazing process to continue past June 2014, but they have not yet made a concrete commitment. Schumer is urging FWS to extend this order and allow the population control measures that have worked so well to continue indefinitely. Schumer is also urging FWS to issue its decision soon, before the summer season gets underway, so the over 1,000 tourismrelated businesses that rely on the vitality of Oneida Lake can rest assured that their businesses will not be affected by a cormorant bird invasion.

According to the FWS website, cormorant bird nesting populations can be found on all the Great Lakes in both United States and Canadian waters, on inland lakes like Lake Champlain and Oneida Lake, and on the Niagara River. Because cormorants are conspicuous fisheating birds, anglers in the Great Lakes basin may consider them a nuisance species and a threat to populations of recreational and commercial fish species. Cormorants feed on small fish like alewife, yellow perch or gizzard shad, as well as steelhead, lake and brown trout when available.

Schumer noted that the current cormorant bird hazing process is supported by the Oneida Lake Association, a 3,000 member organization made up of anglers and others who rely on the lake for recreation and business. Schumer noted that many of these members have volunteered their time to assist the DEC with hazing the invasive bird and that they stand ready to assist the DEC in the future should the volunteer program be reinstated, depending on need.

A copy of Schumer's letter to Daniel Ashe, Director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is included below:

Dear Director Ashe:

I write today on behalf of more than 3,000 members of the Oneida Lake Association (OLA) here in Central New York, as well as countless nonresident anglers who visit the lake each fishing season, and nearly 1,000 businesses that benefit each year from the positive economic impact fishing has on Oneida Lake.

I understand the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will soon make an important decision on doublecrested cormorant control efforts employed by statesupervised anglers and wildlife experts across Central New York and Oneida Lake. I understand the current cormorant control process is at risk and I write today to urge you to allow it to continue uninterrupted.

As you know, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulations that have allowed the state and local groups, under DEC supervision and sponsorship, to engage in cormorant control measures will sunset at the end of June 2014. For Oneida Lake, an end of the current cormorant control, also called depredation process, would wreak havoc on the Oneida Lake ecosystem, anglers, and the regional economy. In the past, local state DEC officials and OLA members cooperatively engaged in regular and humane cormorant harassment practices. These methods include pyrotechnics and other nonlethal alternatives aimed at forcing cormorants to pass quickly through Oneida Lake during migration.

For the past two years, the OLA and partners like Cornell Cooperative Extension, the state DEC, and other wildlife experts have joined together to control the cormorant population from overtaking the lake. Along with local residents, I fear that ending the depredation order could devastate the regional ecosystem and its economy. 

As your agency finalizes its review of the current depredation process. I remain hopeful that you can swiftly enact an extension of the current doublecrested cormorant depredation order before it expires in June. Moreover, I hope that we can remove the expiration date altogether the next time we extend the depredation order, so we do not face any sunset in the future.

Please feel free to contact my Regional Director, Angelo Roefaro, at (315) 4235471 should you have any questions as it relates to this approaching doublecrested cormorant depredation ruling.


Charles E. Schumer

U.S. Senator