State, federal officials trying to find money to deal with egrets

Friday, January 9th 2004, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

CORUM, Okla. (AP) _ State and federal officials are flying to the rescue of southwestern Oklahoma residents who want some of their feathered neighbors to leave.

Federal money will be found to divert thousands of cattle egrets away from an area near Waurika Lake, said Phil Robinson, staff wildlife biologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Oklahoma office.

If efforts to move the egrets' rookery are successful, other Oklahoma communities plagued by the migratory birds could get some help.

A couple hundred birds appeared in Corum during the summer of 2000.

The population grew to about 2,000 the following year and ballooned to 10,000 birds in 2002, Corum resident MariAnne Snelling estimated.

Residents are concerned about the possible effect egret droppings will have on air and water quality, forestry, health and property values.

The birds, part of the heron family, feed on insects stirred up by grazing cattle. Cattle egrets and other egret species were placed under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act after many were killed by hunters for their graceful plumes.

Wildlife officials know of about 20 rookeries in Oklahoma. Fifteen rookeries probably affect Bethany, Midwest City, Norman, Newcastle and Mustang, Robinson said.

The Association of South Central Oklahoma Governments is helping put together money for the project and has provided a point man to ensure proper cleanup, said state Rep. Jari Askins.

``Unless you actually see (the site) when the maximum number of birds are there and the eggs are hatching, you have no concept of how horrible it is,'' Askins, D-Duncan, said.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., wrote the Department of Agriculture last month, requesting $100,000 to test the birds and their impact on human health, and to redirect their spring nesting, spokeswoman Julie Bley said.

Askins said there needs to be a plan that covers cleanup and relocation of the birds.

``It's going to take multiple jurisdictions to do that, but if we can put together a model for how this rookery is dealt with, it should provide an incentive for others,'' she said.

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