July 3, 2009

Idaho’s Pelican Plan Put on Hold

Federal officials have halted a plan by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission to halve the number of pelicans nesting in eastern and southern Idaho by 2013.

In May, Idaho officials approved a five-year plan to kill American white pelicans in southeastern Idaho in order to protect sport fish and the Yellowstone cutthroat trout populations.

The plan requires the approval of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, because pelicans are protected under federal law.

"We didn't feel the management plan had enough data in it right now to issue the permits required," said Brad Bortner, of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Idaho wildlife officials took offense to comments made by Utah wildlife officials calling the proposal a "pelican eradication program."

"Absolutely not," said Jeff Gould, chief of Idaho's Bureau of Wildlife. "It's a management plan for pelicans, with the primary goal of reducing impacts to fish."

Gould will meet with federal Fish and Wildlife officials in July to discuss questions about the plan, and also provide the scientific data needed to obtain the permits to proceed with the proposal.

The pelican population in eastern and southern Idaho has grown exponentially over the past few years. Pelicans at the Blackfoot Reservoir have increased from 1,400 in 2002 to 2,400 in 2008. The colony on Lake Walcott has increased from 400 birds in 2002 to over 4,000 birds.

The proposal calls for eliminating over half the birds while still maintaining a stable population of 700 birds at the Blackfoot Reservoir and 2,100 at the Lake Walcott colony.

Oregon and Utah's Fish and Wildlife Service offices have been against Idaho's plan, saying the proposal would undo the previous 25 years of pelican conservation.

"Given the conservation status assigned by Idaho and other western states, and given the threats to the species, we believe it is unwise to begin a pelican eradication program," wrote Larry Crist, of the Utah Fish and Wildlife Service.

"Lethal take of pelicans would not be reversible and it could take years for the local population to recover," he wrote.

Federal officials are asking Idaho to construct permanent wire arrays, in-stream structures, and to plant stream side vegetation to keep pelicans from feeding on the Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

According to the federal officials, Idaho's plan failed to factor in how historic water levels at the Blackfoot Reservoir have impacted the trout numbers. In 2001, 4,700 cutthroats were counted. By 2005, only 14 remained.

Pelicans called Idaho home before white settlers arrived, but in the early 1900s, the creation of reservoirs produced ideal habitats for these ground-nesting birds.

Idaho state managers do have permission to kill up to 50 pelicans for scientific analysis, but not to control the pelican population.


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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service