Sportsman’s Club is pushing for the removal of migratory birds on Pilot Island

Future use meeting set for October 13

The Washington Island Sportsman’s Club held a public meeting Oct. 13, 2-4 p.m., in the Rutledge Room of the Island Community Center to discuss the future use of Pilot Island with representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

The club’s Rip Koken said the meeting will involve Charlie Wooley, FWS Midwest Regional Manager; FWS Shelter Manager Bill Peterson; and others from the agency. He said the purpose of the meeting was for the Sportsman’s Club and the FWS to understand each other’s positions.

The U.S. Coast Guard turned Pilot Island over to the FWS in 2007. The 3.5-acre island, located off the tip of the Door Peninsula near Washington Island, is now part of the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge . A lighthouse built in 1858 to help ships pass through Death’s Gate remains there today, and the organization Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands has ongoing fundraising efforts to support renovations to the structure.

Pilot Island is now closed to the public as a nesting area for cormorants and other migratory birds. The Sportsman’s Club has expressed concern about the effect the number of birds there is having on the environment, including the water quality around the island and the impact of the birds on certain species of fish, like perch.

The Sportsman’s Club is seeking the support of Door County municipalities in urging the FWS to “transform Pilot Island from a polluted, smelly eyesore into a county-loved attraction.”

For example, Forestville Village President Terry McNulty received a letter last month from Sportsman’s Club President Martin Anderson encouraging contact with FWS Director Martha Williams and Wooley to support the club’s efforts.

“If the cities and towns of Door County would unite strongly against the current use of Pilot Island, it would send a strong message to FWS,” Anderson said in the letter to McNulty.

Anderson further informed McNulty that the City of Washington in 2019 and the City of Liberty Grove in 2020 had sent letters to the FWS objecting to the current use of Pilot Island.

The Sportsman’s Club also sent a letter in August to Williams urging him to:

  • Remove colonial nesting birds and restore Pilot Island’s flora, fauna and drinking water to what they were before the FWS acquired Pilot Island;
  • Embrace the need to save Pilot Island and the three nearby historic shipwrecks while adhering to the best interests of the public and local economy;
  • Restore the Lighthouse/Keeper Building and reconstruct the Fog Signal Building for use as historical document display sites and to educate the public; and
  • Open Pilot Island to the public and build a private/commercial wharf that would be sufficient to meet the needs of visitors to the island.

The club’s letter says the changes it recommends “will prevent the destruction of a valuable historic island and save Pilot Island while benefiting the local economy and improving our fisheries”.

Information about the Sportsman’s Club’s efforts to restore Pilot Island is also posted on

When contacted to comment on the Sportsman’s Club’s efforts to change the use of Pilot Island, Mary Beth Volmer – president of Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands – said the group is partnering with the FWS to run the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge, of which Pilot Island is a part, and she deferred any further comments to Peterson.

Peterson said the FWS supports opening the 325-acre Plum Island to the public while keeping Pilot Island closed to colonial breeding birds.

“We will continue to support the birds there [on Pilot Island],” he said.

Peterson – who acknowledged that Pilot Island is “smelly”, with the number of birds occupying it while nesting – said he believed the cormorant population was now stable after the birds recovered their previous level of danger.

He said he does not believe the plan presented by the Sportsman’s Club to eradicate all cormorants and other migratory birds currently on the island is a realistic solution to restoring it.

With limited federal funding, the FWS has repaired the roof of the lighthouse, Peterson said, and the agency plans to upgrade the dock on Pilot Island so it can dock a boat there, with the island remaining closed to the public. attend the October 13 meeting in person can access it remotely at by calling 872.240.3212 and using the access code 715-139-133.

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