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Agencies Set Meetings
for Work on Caspian Tern EIS

by CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - April 11, 2003

Six public scoping meetings are scheduled in April and May as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers begin work on an Environmental Impact Statement for Caspian tern management in the Columbia River estuary.

The proposed study area includes the states of Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho and Nevada, which comprise a portion of the Pacific Coast/Western range of Caspian terns.

The EIS will address Caspian tern predation of young salmon smolts in the Columbia River estuary; the management of terns in the Pacific Coast/Western region, particularly the tern colony on East Sand Island in the Columbia River estuary; and the long-term ownership and management of East Sand Island.

The study also will evaluate whether Caspian tern habitat should be created, or existing habitat enhanced, elsewhere in the Pacific Coast/Western region as a means of dispersing some of the population from East Sand Island. The Fish and Wildlife Service has conducted a feasibility study evaluating 77 possible sites, mostly on state or federal land.

Among the areas evaluated are sites in or around San Diego Bay, San Francisco Bay, Monterey Bay, Humboldt Bay, Mono Lake, Tule Lake, and Tulare Basin in California; Coos Bay, the Umpqua River estuary, Fern Ridge Reservoir and inland islands in the Columbia River in Oregon; Willapa Bay, Grays Harbor, and Puget Sound in Washington; Blackfoot Reservoir, Mormon Reservoir and Bear Lake in Idaho; and Pyramid Lake and Carson Sink areas in Nevada.

No decisions will be made about any of the possible sites until the EIS is completed and the public has had a chance to comment.

To begin the EIS process, two public meetings each are planned for California, Washington and Oregon. At the public meetings, members of the public will be asked to submit written comments, information and suggestions on the scope of issues that should be considered in the EIS. No oral testimony will be taken.

Each meeting will be from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The meetings are scheduled for:

April 14
Oakland Marriott
1001 Broadway
Oakland, Calif.

April 15
Redwood Park Lodge
East Park Road
Arcata, Calif.

April 28
Grays Harbor College
1620 Edward P. Smith Drive
Aberdeen, Wash.

April 29
Washington State Capital Museum
211 West 21st Ave.
Olympia, Wash.

May 5
Duncan Law Seafood Center
2021 Marine Drive #200
Astoria, Ore.

May 6
Double Tree Hotel, Lloyd Center
1000 N.E. Multnomah Blvd.
Portland, Ore.

Nesting by Caspian terns in the Columbia River estuary has grown significantly since it was first documented in 1984. Terns have concentrated in the estuary because historic nesting sites have been lost elsewhere in the Pacific Coast/Western region and human-created dredge-spoil islands offered stable nesting habitat close to abundant supplies of fish.

Approximately 70 percent of the entire Pacific Coast population of Caspian terns now nests on East Sand Island, near the mouth of the Columbia River, during the spring and early summer.

The large concentration of terns may have impacts on listed young salmon and steelhead migrating through the estuary to the Pacific Ocean, according to the USFWS. The listed salmon and steelhead are protected by the Endangered Species Act and efforts are under way to recover these stocks.

The concentration of terns in this single location also may place the Pacific Coast tern population at risk of injury from storms, predators, human disturbance and disease.

The EIS will explore whether management actions are necessary to protect young salmon and steelhead and the Caspian tern colony in the Columbia River estuary. Federal and state agencies and conservation groups have agreed to explore the need and opportunity to restore, create and enhance nesting habitat for Caspian terns elsewhere in the Pacific Coast/Western region as one means to reduce and disperse the large tern colony on East Sand Island.

The benefits of this action would reduce the level of tern predation on out-migrating Columbia River salmon and steelhead smolts and lower the vulnerability to catastrophic events of a significant portion of the breeding Caspian Tern population in the Pacific Coast/Western region.

The EIS process was triggered by a lawsuit filed early in 2000 by bird conservation groups that challenged a plan to move what is believed the world's largest colony of Caspian terns from Rice Island to East Sand. It was believed, and three years of data seem to back the theory, that the birds would eat a higher percentage marine species, and fewer salmon and steelhead, at the East Sand site, which is nearer the ocean.

The National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Seattle Audubon Society and American Bird Conservancy said in their lawsuit that the plan's scientific basis was faulty and asked the judge to require that an environmental impact study be completed. The groups said the tern management developed by the federal, state and tribal entities did not take into account the long-term welfare of the birds.

The court had issued a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in April 2000 prohibiting tern harassment on Rice Island. In December of that the year the court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the claims.

An August 2001 injunction imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein prohibited any harassment of the birds in the estuary or manipulation of habitat and threatened implementation of the management plan last year. The Corps and USFWS had appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which steered the two sides toward settlement negotiations.

Rothstein ruled that the Corps and USFWS acted illegally when they initiated a plan to turn the world's largest colony of Caspian terns away from their preferred nesting site without the benefit of a full environmental impact statement. Rice Island was created by the Corps of Engineers with spoils from its dredging of the Columbia River navigation channel.

The settlement required the federal government to prepare and maintain six acres of suitable tern habitat on East Sand Island, near the mouth of the Columbia River, and complete three studies related to Caspian terns -- a predation analysis, tern status assessment and the nesting site feasibility.

The USFWS was charged with taking the lead in preparing a long-term management plan and the EIS.

A draft EIS is expected to be released in July 2004 for 60 days of public review. Another series of public meetings will be held in August 2004. The final EIS is expected in January 2005.

Written comments on the scope of issues that should be considered in the Environmental Impact Statement may be submitted by May 22, 2003, to Nanette Seto, Migratory Birds and Habitat Programs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 911 N.E. 11th Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97232 or faxed to 503-231-2019.

Related Sites:
USFWS habitat review:'s_new.htm

CBB Staff
Agencies Set Meetings for Work on Caspian Tern EIS
Columbia Basin Bulletin, April 11, 2003

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