Orchard owners and operators surrounding the Wasco County Landfill are working with federal and state agencies on a plan to mitigate a super-abundance of ravens and other birds at the landfill.

However, no work can be begin at the landfill itself under their current operating plan, according to Brian Bevola of Waste Connections, which owns and operates the landfill.

“We have an agreement with the orchardists to not harass the birds most of the year, all but a couple of months,” Bevola told the board of commissioners during a presentation by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Wildlife Services on possible strategies to reduce bird damage in the area. “We’ve had the tools, but have been unable to use them because of that agreement,” he explained.

The agreement stops landfill operators from harassing the birds during harvest and other sensitive seasons in the orchards.

That agreement is just one change that will need to be made as a consortium of orchardists, landfill operators and property owners work with federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) personnel to address the growing issue of ravens eating and defecating on ripe cherries and potentially contaminating the crop. Local Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality personnel in the Mid-Columbia area are also being consulted.

“We have come up with a coordinated, integrated management plan,” said Shane Koyle, district superintendent of USDA Wildlife Services, which runs APHIS. “Our agency is involved because we are charged with animal damage control, in agricultural and industrial areas. We have been helping Wasco County with other issues for several years now,” he added.

Koyle said the agency is “kind of a third party” in the bird control question. “We are trying to work with all parties and bring people together on this, and keep the public safe,” he explained.

“This is coordinated plan, with landfill, orchardists and landowners involved in the plan,” he explained.

The plan would shift and focus on different property, and involve multiple approaches. “There is no one cure-all in dealing with wildlife,” Koyle said.

Koyle acknowledged community concerns regarding use of poison to reduce the raven population, and noted poison use was a “last resort,” and would not be used in the first year of mitigation.

He outlined a progression of mitigation steps:

The first step is to investigate if the habitat can be improved to reduce attractants by modifying human actions and procedures. In the case of the landfill, this involves maintaining a small “face” or opening for the placement of additional garbage, and covering that garbage once it is dumped so the contents do not attract the ravens and gulls.

As a second step, harassment of the birds can be used to reduce their density, and involves making the birds feel unwelcome. Tools include pyrotechnics (fireworks), distress calls, falcons, drones and others.

“There are a lot of things being made to harass the birds,” Koyle noted. Some of these tools would require third party involvement. “We do have a list of local falconers,” he said. “We will reach out to them, see what kind of help they can proved.”

A final step, lethal control, can reduce bird numbers and/or reinforces the harassment — for example, “loud noises are bad” because they can be lethal. Lethal control of ravens and gulls require Wildlife Service involvement. Techniques can include firearms, traps and possibly toxins, i.e., pesticides.

“Pesticides are a last resort here, and would not be used in the first year,” Koyle said.

If toxin is required, the agency would use DRC 1339, the safest. Koyle said the pesticide has been used for 30-40 years, and is lethal to a “handful of targeted birds,but not as lethal to other birds or animals like foxes, coyotes, red tail hawks, etc. It also has minimal risk of secondary poisoning, the toxins break down, digest and are excreted before death.

“How we use it also makes it safe,” Koyle said. “We monitor to make sure only target species are there, and select a bait that is selective to the target species, and other birds not interested in.”

For example, eggs are of greater interest to ravens than many birds. The bait is monitored, and cleaned up after. “It is very easy to clean up afterword,” Koyle said. “But for now, we are going to avoid pesticide in the orchards in the first year.”

Koyle said no control measure is a cure-all. “You have adjust and re-evaluate.”

Commissioner Kathy Schwartz asked about practices at the landfill, and if those were contributing to the bird issue. “It seem like the lethal controls are short term. If the human attraction continues, the birds will continue to come.”

Koyle noted “the landfill is keeping a small face, and closing it quickly,” resulting in less exposure of waste to the birds. “We will have to look at what else could be playing a roll, like spills. There may be other practices to change in the long term. We can also look at other activities in the area that could be causing an attractant.”

Ash Harris, with the Rowena Wildlife Clinic, noted that if lethal force is used, the birds return within a year. “Why have that on the table, when that is true?” she asked.

Koyle responded, “We come with multiple tools. (Lethal force) is a tool we have used on similar projects. We have to consider all the tools and techniques. If we can remove acclimatized birds, sometimes that has been helpful.”

Harris noted the wildlife clinic “encouraged investigation into non-lethal techniques like falconers,” and asked that the community be told what techniques are going to be used.

Koyle said the plan outlines possibilities, but “we don’t publicize what we will be doing day to day, that would not be in the plan.”

No decision was sought or made in regards to mitigation plans, and Commissioner Steve Kramer thanked those working together on a solution acceptable to everyone.

“We can find a solution. We will find a solution, it will take some time. We will move forward with this,” he said.