Parks Canada employees plan to reduce the population of the double-crested cormorant on Point Pelee National Park's Middle Island, but one animal rights group is calling the cull unnecessary during a provincial stay-at-home order.
In an email statement to CBC News, Parks Canada said the high number of cormorant nests on Middle Island was "causing significant and potentially irreversible damage" to native vegetation on the island and was also threatening at-risk species.
The cull is expected to begin on Thursday and last until mid-May.
"The goal of their management on Middle Island is not to eliminate them. Instead, the goal is to reduce the number of nests, in order to restore ecological health and protect species at risk," the statement from Parks Canada reads.
Liz White, director of Animal Alliance of Canada, said the cull comes as a surprise to her, given the province's stay-at-home order. Her group aims to protect all animals and has been documenting the aftermath of cormorant cullings for more than a decade.
"They don't have to do it," she said. "The government has been very clear that if this is not an urgent matter, go home and stay home and only go out if you absolutely have to for shopping, for medical situations. And in the middle of a pandemic, they've decided that although everybody else in these communities have to stay home ... they've decided that they don't have to do that."
She said it's unfair that members of her group must obey the stay-at-home order and aren't able to attend and document what's happening like they've done in the past.
"Most people don't know what happens there. So it's kind of out of sight and out of mind for the community. So that's why we felt we should be there to document what's happening and to hold them accountable because they set parameters as to how they need to do this cull," White said.
"We're going to respect the order and we believe that Parks Canada should, too, not just because they don't need to shoot cormorants on Middle Island, but because they should respect the community," she said, adding that it will be difficult for the employees to practice physical distancing while travelling by boat.
Parks Canada said it's allowed to move forward with the cull under the province's reopening act.
White disagrees with the idea, saying "there's no urgency to it and so the question is, why would you put people at risk and why would you think that you could be different in a community where everybody else is expected to stay home?"
Potentially disturbing other species
Parks Canada said the target for the density of cormorant nests on the island is 30-60 nests per hectare.
White said she's concerned the cull might affect other birds that nest alongside cormorants, including the great blue heron, claiming the population has been cut in half since culls began.
"Clearly the disturbance of people being on the island and shooting birds all around them is very disturbing to the herons," she said.
White says plants are not endangered
White argues that the birds shouldn't be killed when part of the reason to control the population is to protect certain vegetation, which she says aren't really endangered.
"They're endangered by virtue of a border that we have, which is about 100 metres away between Canada and the U.S. And the plants that are on the island are widely available throughout the United States," she said. "Not a single plant on the island is endangered if you decide not to have an arbitrary border to determine that."
Meanwhile, Parks Canada said since it began the cull, its population control measures have been working.
"As of 2017, research and monitoring has shown an increase in healthy forest canopy cover, desirable herbaceous species, and many species at risk populations," it said.
White said the group has written a letter to Windsor-Essex's medical officer of health, hoping that direction will be given to Parks Canada about not moving forward with the cull.
She also said they're exploring the possibility of having a member from the Kingsville area monitor the island.
"We're in the process of figuring that out because if in fact they do proceed with the cull, we are not going to have a year where there is no observation taking place, no documentation about what's happening. And so we're exploring that as a possibility," she said.