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It’s time to cull the cormorants!

June 3, 2011

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am as “environmental” as the best of them. I may not burn SUV’s and luxury homes on the Oak Ridges Moraine but if I could I would outlaw the first and ban the latter.

Mother Nature is the equivalent – no, is God. Use whatever word you like, but they are the same thing.

I grew up in the woods of eastern Ontario, have a family farm that we visit as often as possible, and have been privileged to have visited some of the most remarkable natural places on the planet.

I had to shoot a chipmunk once when I was a boy because it kept coming into my parents’ grocery store at night and ripping open bags of bread and peanuts and such. I felt horrible after I wacked the little guy. I have never hunted since.

But if I could, I surely would, go out to Leslie Spit (Tommy Thompson Park) here in Toronto, and I would get rid of about 30,000 pairs of nesting cormorants who are destroying the Leslie Spit forest and plant ecosystem in a scene that is straight out of the darkest, most evil images of Lord of the Rings.

Let me show you what I mean. I took my camera out last weekend for some before-during-after pics.

Leslie Spit forest - before cormorants nest

This is your Leslie Spit forest. Healthy, vibrant, and beautiful. It probably only encompasses about 10-15% of the entire park (along the north shore).  

For those who do not know, Leslie Spit is probably on the best kept secrets in Toronto. It extends out into Lake Ontario (5km in length) at the base of Leslie Street and is one of the best birding sanctuaries in central North America and is easily one of the great places to nature stroll and/or cycle in Toronto. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leslie_Street_Spit for a better understanding of this fabulous place.) Dawn or dusk is the best if you want to see rabbits, turtles, beavers, snakes, foxes, and birds of all sorts.

Leslie Spit forest #2: after being invaded by nesting cormorants

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
 
 
But, if you have ever seen an invasion of locusts, or mice in a barn, you appreciate the environmental terror inflicted when a species is allowed to run rampant.
 
There are now more cormorants than ever previously recorded on Lake Ontario and Lake Erie (they nearly went extinct in the ’70’s due to lake pollution).
    

Leslie Spit forest #3: what is left after nesting season

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Here’s the problem: cormorant quauno is lethal to trees. And when you have so many (too many) cormorants taking up every single branch of a tree, their shit literally eats the tree out from under them.
 
Soon there is nothing left but sand and rock.
 
  Alfred Hitchcock himself couldn’t have come up with a more monstrous image of what birds can do to a forest.
 
The cormorants have to be culled before they destroy the remaining forest in the park. There isn’t much forest to begin with, and I estimate that at current deforestation rates, there is only (maybe) 5-10 years left before the entire spit is a cormorant wasteland.
 
Their impact on young fish populations also has people concerned – for when you have so many mouths to feed, the food must come from somewhere.
 
Currently the cormorant is a protected species and has been since they nearly went extinct in the 1970’s. But now we have too much of a good thing.
 
They are completely out-of-control (population wise) and are a toxic menace to forests all along the shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.
 
And if the population is not managed, it will destroy all the resources it needs and will then collapse on itself, and we will be back to a time when they were nearing extinction.
 
Culling them must be humane, well planned, with specific long-term sustainable goals.
 
Now I know that the ‘Cormorants Defenders International’ and ‘Earthroots’ will all say that humans are the bigger problem to the environment than cormorants and in the larger picture we are. But such rhetoric will do nothing to save Leslie Spit over the next 5 years.
 
Much of the lower Great Lakes forest is under attack; forests and local plant species have already been decimated.
 
The Leslie Spit eco-system – one of the most important birding sanctuaries in North America (it has been featured on National Geographic as one of 5 most important sanctuaries in eastern North America) is too big for us to allow one species to destroy it.
 
It’s time for some of the cormorants to go.
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