Rare pelicans to be "managed" (killed) in Idaho

Notice: for those who want to comment on this, the comment period has been extended until noon on May 12, 2009.  You can also provide oral testimony to the Fish and Game Commission the evening or the 13th. The Fish and Game Commission meeting begins at 7:00PM in the ISU Student Union Bldg – Big Wood River Room.

-When the state of Idaho (and other western states) express the need to “manage” a wildlife species – that usually perks the ears of wildlife advocates in the state.  That’s because “manage” is so often a word used to soften the state’s real intention – i.e. the intent to ‘kill’ wildlife.  Ralph and many others note this is particularly true with wolves and we’ve seen it with bighorns and others.

White Pelicans Fishing
White Pelicans Fishing

So how about pelicans ?

F&G Seeks Comments On Pelican Management Plan

Pelicans are a “critically imperiled” species in Idaho occurring in two colonies located on Blackfoot Reservoir and the Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge.  Unfortunately :
2009 Draft Pelican Management Plan(page 1)

In some areas, pelicans predominately forage on abundant populations of nongame fish resulting in non-consequential or acceptable impacts. However, in some areas pelican predation is measurably impacting native trout populations and recreational fisheries resulting in resource conflicts.

Location of Idaho colonies

Pelican “Management”

Yet, despite the imperiled state of pelicans and their protected status  in the state, IDFG seeks to “manage” pelicans to maintain recreational fisheries – sport fishing – using a variety of unique methods that aptly illustrate the ‘war-game’-like “management” mentality that dominates state wildlife management departments in the west, especially Idaho’s.

Page 20 of Draft Pelican Management Plan – a few techniques considered “feasible”:

Haze Birds––Haze only foraging or loafing birds (no hazing on nesting islands). This action was deemed feasible.

  • Harassment by air boat, motor boat, or aircraft.
  • Harassment by human presence and/or dogs.
  • Harassment by crackers shells, zon guns, or pyrotechnics.
  • Disturbance by lasers or strobe lights.
  • Disturbance by human presence or effigies.

Oil Eggs to Limit Pelican Productivity and/or Recruitment––Spray vegetable oil on incubating eggs (suffocates embryos). This action was deemed feasible.

  • May require multiple applications of vegetable oil.
  • Requires authorization from the USFWS because pelicans are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).

“Blasting” pelican nesting grounds (page 58) is also described as a “management” method to ‘control’ pelican populations and to illustrate the depth of this unique “management” pathology, USDA Wildlife Services were brought in to take a shot at detering the birds’ presence.

Page 2 :

As recommended by USDA/APHIS Wildlife Service personnel, pelican carcasses were left on site to further deter pelicans from using the area. There is little indication that this was effective and in fact the pelican carcasses may have attracted other birds to the area.

Tommorrow is the last day to comment on the IDFG’s plan to “control”/”manage” rare pelicans in the state.

American white pelican - photo: USFWS
American white pelican – photo: USFWS



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  1. Ryan Avatar


    There is no populaiton concerns with them as they are relatively healthy.

    The native cutthroat trout are a major concern though and protecting them should be of the utmost concern. This situation is similar to the carnage that happens at bonneville dam every year when the Sea Lions arrive. (earlier and earlier each year)

  2. Jay Avatar

    Ryan, I’m for helping cutts myself, but the thrust of the issue is controlling one species to benefit another that us as humans value for use (and abuse) as recreation. If pelicans relied primarily on whitefish, nobody would give a crap about it, and there would be no proposed pelican mgmt plan. We’re the ones that have f’ed up the sytem, and the pelicans are the ones that will pay the price.

  3. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    I’m not aware of cutthroat populations in Idaho but I know here in Wyoming, particularly in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem they are of concern. I would question how much of an impact they are having on that particular species of trout.

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Both white pelicans and Yellowstone cutthroat trout are of concern. All species of cutthroat trout are in decline.

    While the management plan for pelicans doesn’t dwell on the matter, it is clear to me from the document that the bulk of pelican food consists of carp, not trout.

    Therefore, it seems to me that the way to reduce predation on trout without killing pelicans is reduce the carp population. I’ve watched pelicans “herd” carp from the lake into pools onshore where than can be easily eaten. They are very good at it.

    Everyone knows that carp are big. The trout are smaller. For sure the pelicans are putting a dent in the trout population, but it seems to me that predation on trout is primarily incidental. They pelicans want the carp. If the carp are gone, the pelicans will go somewhere else.

  5. Craig Avatar

    To bad they can’t dive deep enough to get all the lake trout!

  6. Ryan Avatar


    I believe your observations are correct at the time you were observing them. It seems from the study, the predation is most intense in May during the spawning run. The real problem is the resivoirs which create the Pelican Habitat. Its very similar to the problems we face on the columbia, bonniville dam creates a choke point for sea lions to predate on salmon and sturgeon and the tailing piles that create a huge nesting area for caspian terns in the estuary.

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    Yes the two big pelican areas in Idaho are both reservoirs with a lot of shallow water.

    The thing I can’t understand, however, is why the increase in pelicans on these reservoirs? The reservoirs have been there a long time.

  8. Laura Avatar

    What sort of coyote population is there in that area? Coyotes apparently like pelican eggs (goose eggs as well). I have wondered if the canadian goose explosion is somehow related to reduced numbers of coyotes and that maybe our large airports should encourage coyotes to reduce geese numbers and thus reduce the number of large birds hitting planes.

  9. Ryan Avatar


    From what I have read the population is growing.


    Coyotes aren’t real effective on geese except for when they are nesting. (usually at a golf course or public park it seems) Atleast in my area, they mostly feed at airports during their migration and thats when the brunt of the problems occur. Its hard for any predator to sneak up on a couple hundred birds in the middle of a field.

  10. jdubya Avatar

    This is just stupid. Not enough to keep people busy with real problems? If the cutt’s are getting nailed by the pelicans then the ones that learn to avoid them get to procreate, the one’s that can’t figure it out don’t reproduce. It is called evolution and it works.

    Let the pelican numbers run their natural course. They will be limited by predators or disease; they don’t need to be
    “oiled” or managed by the Idaho nazi bird cops. Good grief.

  11. jimbob Avatar

    Just my two cents: I would suppose if there are large numbers of LARGE carp present the CARP would have a bigger impact on trout populations than pelicans. Carp are bottom feeders and known predators of the eggs of other fish. I know they impact warm water species heavily. Could they have the same impact on trout? Have there been any studies done to that effect?

  12. jdubya Avatar

    jimbob, it is true that carp in numbers are a huge mess for a lake. they are scavengers, they stir up the bottom sediment and they breed like, well, pelicans. But you usually would not be in a situation where many carp and cutt’s share the same waters since cutt’s like cold water and carp warm. But you can find carp in cold, fast rivers/lakes especially if you are fishing on the bottom with big flesh-looking flies. I think, IN GENERAL, if you have a water that supports lots of carp, the cutt’s have been eliminated long ago. Utah Lake ( a cess pool of carpdom) is one prime example.

  13. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I do think the real problem here is carp. The pelican predation on the cutts is incidental, but yet a real economic and political problem for Idaho Fish and Game.

    To end the political problem, carp and the Utah chub populations need to be addressed.

    Harassing and killing pelicans is only a short term political band aide.

  14. Tilly Avatar

    This is so insulting and embarrassing. Reading between the lines, you can tell IDFG’s main concern is the recreational fishing, not the endangered species.
    Gosh, are there possibly other more important factors affecting the YCT? Habitat degradation perhaps?
    I hope FWS denies them their kill permit under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

  15. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    You do have to consider that Yellowstone cutthroat trout are declining. In the past a petition was submitted to put them on the Endangered Species List. While this was not accepted, they might be petitioned again.

    So this is more than just a recreational fishery.

  16. jimbob Avatar

    So I guess IDFG plays the same old political game: kill the pelicans to make it look like they’re doing something (whether it is effective or not) . It would be darn near impossible to do anything about the carp (which might be the real problem). Modern game management practices at their finest!

  17. Ryan Avatar


    Cutthroat are tributary spawners, carp predation would be minimal at best. The problem is with removing non native carp is the poisioning the lake is one of the only options although removing the resivoir would help.


    I think u may be getting carp confused with pea mouth and other native carp like species.

  18. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    It won’t be easy to remove the carp, chubs and suckers. Blackfoot River Reservoir has a very large surface area, and an irregular shoreline with many pockets, deeps and shallows.


  19. jdubya Avatar


    I have caught carp in pristine lakes in Minnesota, on the Southfork, the Green below Flaming gorge (the otters like the carp ’cause they don’t swim as fast as the trout), etc, etc. They are out there. And yes, I know my bronze beauties as my British friend used to call them. They are hot stuff on a 6 wt fly line.
    Ralph, the Yellowstone cutt’s are declining but I think it is for many reasons other than carp or pelicans. Between sedimentation, whirling disease, rising water temperatures, periodic droughts, lake trout, etc. those guys have the short end of the stick. Too bad, I really like fishing for cutt’s of any derivation.

  20. Ryan Avatar


    I know its a little redneck, but I shoot them with my bow in the back sloughs on the Willamette here locally.
    There are a myriad of problems that face YCT, Salmon, Bull Trout. I personally feel that all of them should be adressed, instead of looking for the biggest one. I try to personally do my part, I show up at meetings, participate in carcass depositing parties, habitat enhancement events, and remove every non native fish I can.

  21. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    You are both right that Yellowstone cutts are down for many reasons, pelicans being one of lesser importance.

    I am more interested in finding out first why pelicans are up.

  22. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Dr. Chuck Trost, Professor Emeritus at Idaho State University, has some interesting comments on the the pelican/trout issues.

    He brings in the importance of the irrigators, who control the level of the reservoir to this issue. The water quality of the reservoir is not good and likely never to be, rendering it poor trout habitat. However, Fish and Game is likely more interested in restoring the cutthroat runs up the tributary streams of the reservoir, especially the upper Blackfoot River. Ralph Maughan
    – – – – – –
    The idea that people want to kill white pelicans because they eat fish is highly disturbing to me. The attitude of blaming the predator for problems that we have caused is both simple minded and stupid. Irrigation interests control most water levels in our reservoirs, so the Idaho Fish and Game has no vote on maintaining adequate water for spawning trout in the Blackfoot Reservoir. I’ll admit the fish are vulnerable to predation during their spawning migration, especially in low water years, but is that the pelican’s fault? These amazing birds are simply doing what they do well.

    The Blackfoot Reservoir is marginal habitat for cutthroat trout to begin with because of the tremendous load of nutrients in it, presumably from agricultural runoff. I have kayaked out to Gull Island on this reservoir almost every year for the last 25 years. For the last ten years the water has looked like pea soup with all the algal bloom during the summer months. I would be surprised if there weren’t a winter-kill of trout from low oxygen levels when the algae die off. Most non-game fish can handle anoxic conditions, but not trout. Is anyone advocating a cleanup of nutrients from agriculture?

    The Fish and Game’s analysis admits that white pelicans are confined to taking fish only in the top 1-2 feet of water, which means that game fish are relatively safe from pelican predation in most other situations. They further acknowledge that 90% of the white pelican’s diet is non-game fish, and it is estimated that pelicans consume about 215 tons of fish between May 1st and July 31st. This adds up to 384,000 pounds of non-game (read “trash”) fish over this period, and probably well over a half million pounds of these unwanted fish over the whole summer. Has anyone ever considered that the white pelicans might be doing fishermen a favor in Idaho? Does anyone really appreciate fishing for carp, suckers, and chubs? Pelicans are very opportunistic and social in their foraging habits, and I suspect that many of the game fish they take are stolen from cormorants, as this is a common habit of the pelicans. Therefore, any estimates of game fish taken by pelicans from other waters in southeastern Idaho are probably an exaggeration.

    White Pelicans are a long-lived, graceful, and intelligent component of our avifauna and I find it highly repugnant that anyone would propose lethal control of the adults. Just watching their elegant flight patterns always gives me a thrill. Would anyone seriously want to eat a pelican? If any pelicans are killed, however, their bodies should be examined carefully for pesticides and especially mercury. With all the warnings of mercury contamination in our reservoirs from gold mining and coal fired power plants in Nevada, this would be an excellent opportunity to gain knowledge of human exposure to these harmful substances. Putting oil on their eggs would be a preferable method of control, as I suspect that these highly mobile predators would move elsewhere if their reproductive success were lowered. However, I strongly urge no lethal control of adult birds – is nothing sacred?. I urge anyone who has any aesthetic appreciation of nature to contact IDF&G Wildlife bureau, PO Box 25 Boise, ID 83707 before the May 5th deadline for comment. Thank you.


  23. Tilly Avatar

    Please thank Chuck for his eloquent post!

    Just want to add that you can also email comments:

  24. Elkchaser Avatar

    If any of you have been to Blackfoot Reservoir, you would see that the scenario that Fish & Game are describing is very real especially during the spawning run and especially during low water years. The water level in that particular lake is regulated by the reservation which neither you nor I have any influence or input for that matter in how it is controlled. That particular strain of cutts only thrives in very few areas. The pelican on the other hand has a very viable population.

  25. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    It still seems to me that a plan to deal with the problem can’t be effective unless we know why the pelican numbers are increasing so much at the Reservoir.

  26. JB Avatar

    Chuck brings up some interesting points. I think it’s pretty simple why IDF&G has defaulted to the management=kill position; it’s cheap and easily implemented. Answering the questions raised by Ralph and Chuck take time (read: personnel) and money that the agency doesn’t have (nor would it want to invest it in an endangered species issue). As others have pointed out, their are likely many reasons that the habitat is marginal, chief among them the dam and agricultural run-off; however, F&G can’t/won’t deal with these issues. Thus, they do what’s cheap and easy; they shoot birds.

  27. RichGriz Avatar

    As a sportsman I cannot support the IDFG draft plan for a whole variety of reasons. The biggest reason is there is no way to measure the success of this project (killing off half the population of pelicans) If that were to happen and the numbers of trout kept dropping the IDFG would say “oh its a water quality issue, or lack of water in the reservoir”.. On the other hand if the pelican kill occurs and the numbers of trout increase IDFG would say “success”, but did their project succeed because predation was decreased or because water quality was improved?? There is no real way of knowing. The problem with the trout decreasing is the environment that they live in, and the way the reservoirs are managed.

  28. Ryan Avatar

    JB and Ralph,

    Chuck’s points are valid, but here is the problem. Lets blame the bigger problem and avoid the one that’s distasteful to deal with but is more easily implemented and is a good stop gap measure. Here is a prime example of people thinking with their hearts and not with their brains.



    The Pelicans could very well have the same effect. This run has never recovered. It was at roughly 2500 fish when the sea lions showed up and now on a good year is just a couple hundred. Gotta give the HSUS a big round of applause for pushing these runs into the Critically endangered list.

  29. RichGriz Avatar

    The bigger problem is water quality and quanity from the reservoirs. The first step should be to try negotiate with water users, for better water flows for the trout and then ensure trout aren’t getting trapped in irrigation ditches. Well saying that it is easier said than done but you have to start somewhere. Killing Pelicans will/may increase other fish populations and IDFG hasn’t even addressed what effect that may have on trout. I am all for science and common sense not knee jerk reactions and short term bandaids and wasting tax payer money. Nor has IDFG addressed the positive impacts of Pelicans and they have only looked only at predation.

  30. JB Avatar


    Actually, I don’t have a problem with killing a few birds to help (temporarily) with restoring an endangered species; in fact, I was trying to point out that from IDF&G’s perspective, killing pelicans is quite pragmatic (i.e. cheap, easy, presumably effective). However, I would have a problem if this became a continuous practice because the habitat is made marginal by agricultural runnoff and other anthropogenic factors (like the presence of a dam). Then you get yourself in the position of continually treating the symptom and never dealing with the root cause. So I would ask, is there any evidence that suggests that killing pelicans will have more than a temporary effect on CT populations?

  31. Ryan Avatar


    Evidence from other areas with regards to effects of predation in man altered enviroments is that it can be deadly.. No one would argue that removing the dams from the columbia or the locks from lake WA wouldn’t be good for salmon. It would be darned near impossible to do, so to wait for those items to be resolved while predators take advantage of the un natural situation will in most cases have disasterous effects.

  32. kt Avatar

    Duh – If Fish and game were sincerely interested in cutthroat trout, they would act to promote removal of domestic livestock grazing on dozens of drainages in southern Idaho that are currently being destroyed from BLM and Forest Service mis-management. THAT is where the real problem lies. Habitat across native trout species range is being lost due to welfare cows and sheep.

    A few whining greedy “anglers” have long sought to have FG get rid og the pelicans.

    Only in the Killing Fields that are Butch Otter’s Idaho would such a preposterous proposal have actually gotten any traction.

    IF you read the info on the FG site, you will see how VERY FEW white pelicans there are – in the entire world. There are only a few populations, and some of those are declining.

    PLUS – in 2006, Wildlife Services killed 6 pelicans. THAT is who is also promoting this. WS wants more killing jobs …

  33. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Killing Fields is a good description of Idaho. I guess the only animal life that Otter values is big game or fish that can be killed or caught and eaten.

  34. JB Avatar

    Population Status & Trends: http://web1.audubon.org/waterbirds/species.php?speciesCode=amewhi

    “The continental population of American White Pelicans declined throughout the first half of the 20th century. The species was considered threatened until the early 1960s, but has since made a substantial recovery. Christmas Bird Counts show increases, as do Breeding Bird Survey data, which indicate steadily and rapidly rising continental populations, which have increased at a rate of nearly four percent per year over the last 25 years. The most dramatic increases have taken place in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wyoming.”

  35. JB Avatar


    If the answer to every question is–and I’m paraphrasing–“IDF&G and Wildlife Services are a bunch of evil killers,” then there really isn’t much of a point to having a conversation, is there?

    Like everyone here, I have imperfect information, but I’m trying to make a reasoned judgment based on the info I have. In my estimation, harassment and some limited killing would be acceptable so long as this is NOT being proposed as a long-term solution, and so long as the underlying causes of CT population decline are addressed.

  36. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I’m going to be going to a discussion on the the issue Monday.

    Hopefully additional information and refined views will be the result.

  37. Ryan Avatar

    I hope its just a stop gap measure until ESA the YCT is ESA listed. (which is inevitible) Hope fully that will bring an end to stocking of nonnative rainbow trout and serious efforts to fix habitat and remove Lake trout.

  38. JB Avatar


    I’ll be interested to hear what you find out.



  39. kt Avatar

    Hey JB: Read what I said again. it is reality. A decade ago a few bait dunkin’ whiners in E ID were a butt of IDFG jokes about wanting to kill pelicans.I know this first hand. Flash forward now: Their greed and stupidity has become the FG mgmt paradigm.

    AND the reality IS that Wildlife Services has persistently sought to extend its KILLING, in every possible way. Including failed efforts to kill sage-grouse predators across 6 very large areas of ID.

  40. MyraMains Avatar

    You’ve got to do something. As long as there are pelicans, how the helican the irrigators have any responsibility for what is truly affecting the populations of cutthroats? Forever the argument will be “the irrigators are the problem” or the flipside “the pelicans are the problem”. If we can sacrifice a few birds to fix the problem, is it not worth it? If we can truly identify where the problem lies and make the party responsible accountable, we can win the fight. That is, where ever the solution lies. The blame game can go on forever.

  41. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    MyraMains, the blame game can go on forever, but I think it is pretty clear that as one person above said, killing pelicans is only putting a bandage on the problem. It is more important to investigate the real cause and deal with that. Pelicans and trout are a natural predator and prey balance that has been around for thousands of years.

  42. JB Avatar

    “Reality” is a funny thing. Two people can look at the same information and come to very different conclusions regarding what is real or true; how we interpret information is based largely on our trust of who is providing the info and our own biases.

    For example, you said: “IF you read the info on the FG site, you will see how VERY FEW white pelicans there are – in the entire world. There are only a few populations, and some of those are declining.”

    And then I read on Audubon’s site (not exactly an unbiased source of information about birds, btw): “Christmas Bird Counts show increases, as do Breeding Bird Survey data, which indicate steadily and rapidly rising continental populations, which have increased at a rate of nearly four percent per year over the last 25 years.”

    Also, I believe it was already established (above) that this population of white pelicans has been increasing.

    It is pretty clear that you have zero trust for either IDF&G or WS, so everything they propose is viewed as having some kind of malicious intent. It may be true or not, depending upon your perspective. However, I think it is probably closer to reality to say that they are proposing to kill pelicans because it is a quick, easy, cheap (if temporary) fix to an endangered species problem, rather than because they “want more killing jobs”, which imbues their proposal with an evil intent (i.e. what kind of sick person “wants” to kill pelicans).

    My comment to you still stands. If you view everything that WS, IDF&G, or any other agency does as bad/malicious/evil, what is the point of having these conversations? Is our purpose here simply to join the chorus of “down with the evil agencies!” If so, I need to find a new hobby.

  43. kt Avatar

    JB -Live in an Idaho backwater for a year, see these guys in action, and you might understand. Killing bureaucrats work to perpetuate the killing bureaucracy/machine.

  44. jimbob Avatar

    I agree with your earlier post, Ralph. It is the simplistic, paleolithic, idiotic solution of killing the predator (in this case the pelican) without finding the real cause; that is what is so ridiculous in this situation. THAT is what I was referring to when I said it is the same old thing with IDF&G. Kill off the predator since nobody buys a pelican hunting license. That is not science.

  45. DB Avatar

    Well the administration probably won’t go after Bybee and Woo for their torture memos either, too hard to prove intent. But many would say their actions were maliciious. The trouble with most public policy debates is that the solutions always seem to nibble around the edges rather than the root cause. If IDFG was concerned about trout they would have long been advocating for reducing non-point pollution off pvt lands, degradation of streams by livestock on public lands, sediments and other pollutants in resevoirs from farming and ranching. Apparently it’s more expedient to propose killing a buch of pelicans which they no doubt realize is hardly a solution. More nibbling at the edges which is worse than doing nothing. And wildlife services is another agriculture subsidy. They are funded to kill things, so, no killing, no funding. Not malicious?

  46. Ryan Avatar


    I don’t think anybody wants to kill pelicans at all, atleast on a personal level, but it involves what needs to be done for the greater good of a damaged ecosystem. Obiviously IDFG and other agencies are doing a good job because both sides of the fence don’t like them.

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Brian Ertz