Monday, May 08, 2017

Parks Canada Shooting Spree: Springtime is Kill Time for Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry

Shooting by Parks Canada: Spring Bear Hunt Boondoggle

by Barry Kent MacKay - Peaceful Parks Coalition

May 9, 2017

Spring time is killing time for Point Pelee National Park and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry

All national parks are free this year because of Canada’s 150 birthday. Peaceful Parks will be organizing a full and dedicated campaign in southern Ontario, including Americans crossing into Canada at the Windsor border, to highlight Point Pelee National Park’s multi year and failed shooting program of Double-crested Cormorants.

Currently Point Pelee is hosting the Festival of Birds Event at the same time they are shooting hundreds of nesting cormorants killing both the parents and their eggs. Parks Canada has produced no reports measuring the effectiveness of their program.

Many of the people that visit Point Pelee during the spring have no idea that Point Pelee is shooting hundreds of nesting birds while at the same time celebrating the spring migration. Other more seasoned birders just don’t care and refuse to boycott Point Pelee for its reckless program.

This program not only kills cormorants, it is also driving away their nesting companions such at Great Blue Herons (currently in steep decline in Ontario) and more recently the threatened American White Pelican.

The American White Pelican was assessed as endangered when the Endangered Species Act took effect in 2008 and was re-assessed as threatened on February 18, 2009.

“Threatened” means the species lives in the wild in Ontario, is not endangered, but is likely to become endangered if steps are not taken to address factors threatening it.

Below is the blog from Barry Kent MacKay who is currently off the shore of Point Pelee’s Middle Island documenting the shooting by Parks Canada of Double-crested Cormorants.

PPC is launching its campaign against Point Pelee’s shooting program on Wednesday May 17 in London Ontario at a townhall meeting discussing the health of Lake Erie. Bird Studies Canada will be presenting – an agency that failed to defend cormorants and their nesting companions. Please let us know if you can join our campaign. We need boots to ground in southern Ontario.

BLOG By Barry Kent MacKay

From yesterday, May 3: While anchored off Middle Island, mid-day, yesterday, we were entertained by a magnificent fly-over of 15 American White Pelicans. I was able to get documentary photos (not high quality) of some of them. They broke up the flock and reformed several times, once at a time when I believe they were joined by three more, but of the 15 I am absolutely certain, and there probably was 18 in total. Some landed on the water. Parks Canada was shooting birds on the island so although the pelicans looked like they might want to land there (the two ends of the island and some of the shelf-limestone around the edge would be suitable roosting/nesting habitat.the sand spit is almost, entirely submerged.about three to five meters just breaking the surface. On one close fly-by we could clearly see the nuptial knobs on tops of some of the birds' beaks.

The egrets don't do well with the shooting but we did manage to see two flying away, one trailing lovely long nuptial plumes. I saw no night-herons although my two non-birding companions (both familiar with the species) say they saw one or two. Great Blue Herons, although not targeted for killing, continue to decline rather steeply as a nesting species and we saw a lot fewer of them than previous years, and also fewer Herring and Ring-billed Gulls and Canada Geese. The small list was rounded off with Barn and Tree Swallows, a Northern Cardinal heard singing from the island, Common Grackles, Gadwall, Bufflehead and several Common Mergansers, Canada Geese (down in numbers from the last few years) and Mallards.

Barry Kent MacKay
Bird Artist, Illustrator

Point Pelee National Park, on Killing Spree, Chases Threatened Species in Senseless Act

by Barry Kent MacKay - Peaceful Parks Coalition

May 12/16

Unbelievable. That word describes what happened in early May in one of the world's most famous national parks for seeing birds at the height of the spring migration. The park is Point Pelee, a tapering point of land thrusting into Lake Erie at the southernmost tip of Canada. As of 2001, the park also includes Middle Island, hidden over the lake's southern horizon, a mere 18.5 hectares (46 acres) in size, and currently uninhabited. It is the southernmost land still part of Canada, thus home to several plant species reaching the northern tip of their ranges in southwestern Ontario, where they have largely been eliminated from the mainland by agriculture and urban sprawl.

Middle Island is also home to colonies of nesting ring-billed gulls, great egrets, black-crowned night-herons, great blue herons, and double-crested cormorants.

Cormorants have been deemed "hyper-abundant" by Parks Canada, concerned that cormorant excrement kills vegetation (including, perhaps, some of the species that have not been adequately protected on the mainland). These species are commonplace to the south, in the U.S., which starts literally a few meters away from Middle Island. (For more, click here and here.)

And so, each spring, as my Canadian colleagues and I take notes from a boat anchored near offshore, sharp-shooters armed with high-velocity .222 rifles slaughter thousands of cormorants as the birds try to nest.

Cormorants are devoted parents who assiduously attend their eggs. They are forever entwining their necks and displaying each other to reinforce strong pair bonds, while shooters pick them off, leaving the ground littered with thousands of rotting bodies. Park visitors are not allowed on the island—ironically "to protect" the nesting birds. Egret and heron numbers have also declined.

But, if all of this is not bizarre enough, the situation escalated into high surrealism this May with the arrival of 25 American white pelicans on the island while the cull was occurring. This is a threatened species in Ontario, whose nearest nesting site is north of Lake Superior, about 700-800 miles away. They nest in colonies with double-crested cormorants.

We foolishly believed that Parks Canada would want these birds to stay. Heavy-bodied and fish-dependent, there are few places better suited for "staging" (resting and feeding while migrating—essential to survival) than Middle Island.

But now, the response we got was from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, which administers the provincial Endangered Species Act, which said, in part: "Pelee Island National Park staff have documented no effects (e.g. extended or permanent displacement, mortality, etc.) of their management actions on American White Pelican. Additionally, Middle Island is not considered suitable nesting habitat and management actions do not take place within the area of the Island that American White Pelicans are using." Click here for the full text of the letter.

Of course, "management actions" (gunfire) chased the pelicans, and there's no way to know the effect on these birds. The legislation clearly states that threatened species are to be protected throughout their life cycle.

And, while they may not now nest on Middle Island, there's no way to know if they might. Much larger range extensions are commonplace, with such western bird species as the yellow-headed blackbird, Brewer's blackbird, black-billed magpie, common raven, and Forster's tern all now nesting in new regions east and south of "normal" breeding range. Some species have widely separated populations. That even includes the American white pelican, who has a series of "disjunct" nesting ranges separated by areas where it does not nest, and who is trying to expand its range.

Sadly, Parks Canada clings to a "museum" or "gardening" approach to management, trying to maintain an arbitrarily fixed state of ecological affairs through its relentless war on wildlife.

Following is the letter received from the Director of the Species Conservation Policy Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry:

I would like to thank you for reaching out to relay your concerns regarding Double-crested Cormorant management actions on Middle Island and possible adverse effects on American White Pelican.

As you are aware, American White Pelican is listed as a threatened species under the provincial Endangered Species Act, and receives both species and habitat protection. The most sensitive aspect of American White Pelican ecology is associated with breeding; and many of the provincial protection and recovery approaches are intended to address threats to nesting colonies.

To assist in the recovery of American White Pelican within Ontario, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) has published a provincial recovery strategy (2011), which provides advice to government on recommended recovery approaches and habitat considerations; a government response statement (2011), which outlines the provincial government's policy direction on the recovery of the species; and a habitat regulation (2012), which provides a legal description of the area of habitat that is protected under the Endangered Species Act.

These documents may be found online at the following link:

I have spoken with MNRF staff and they have informed me that, while individual American White Pelicans are often sighted across much of Ontario, there are two primary breeding localities; Lake of the Woods and Lake Nipigon. Secondary breeding localities include the north shore of Lake Superior.

American White Pelicans appear to be experiencing a range expansion within Ontario, and observations on Lake Erie have increased over the last four to five years, including on Pelee Island and Middle Island, as well as at Point Pelee National Park. These birds are in the process of migrating, likely to the Lake of the Woods breeding site, and are using the Lake Erie Islands and shoreline as migration stopover sites.

MNRF is aware of the cormorant management actions being undertaken on Middle Island by the Parks Canada Agency and is under the understanding that Pelee Island National Park staff have documented no effects (e.g. extended or permanent displacement, mortality, etc.) of their management actions on American White Pelican. Additionally, Middle Island is not considered suitable nesting habitat and management actions do not take place within the area of the Island that American White Pelicans are using.

I would like to thank you once again for your concern regarding the recovery of American White Pelican and for your commitment to conservation of Ontario's natural heritage.

Barry Kent MacKay, Senior Program Associate Born Free USA's Canadian Representative

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