Sportsman’s Club Pressing for Removal of Migratory Birds on Pilot Island

Meeting on future use set for Oct. 13

The Washington Island Sportsman’s Club has arranged a public meeting Oct. 13, 2-4 pm, in the Rutledge Room of the island’s 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 director; FWS refuge manager Bill Peterson; and others from the agency. He said the meeting’s objective is 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, which is 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 navigate through Death’s Door remains there today, and the Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands organization conducts ongoing fundraising efforts to support renovations to the structure. 

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

The Sportsman’s Club is seeking support from municipalities in Door County to urge the FWS to “change Pilot Island from a smelly, polluted eyesore to an attraction valued by the county.”

For instance, 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 in support of the club’s effort.

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

Anderson further informed McNulty that the Town of Washington in 2019 and the Town 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 her to:

  •  Remove the colonial nesting birds and restore Pilot Island’s flora, fauna and clean water as they were before the FWS acquired Pilot Island;
  • Embrace the need to save Pilot Island and the three historical shipwrecks nearby while adhering to the best interests of the public and local economy;
  • Restore the lighthouse/keeper’s building and reconstruct the fog-signal building for use as display sites for historical materials and to educate the public; and
  • Open Pilot Island to the public and build a private/commercial dock that would be sufficient to serve the needs of visitors to the island.

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

Information related to efforts by the Sportsman’s Club to restore Pilot Island is also posted at

When contacted for comment about the Sportsman’s Club’s efforts seeking to change the use of Pilot Island, Mary Beth Volmer – Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands’ president – said the group partners with the FWS in managing the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge, of which Pilot Island is part, and she deferred additional comment to Peterson.

Peterson said the FWS supports having the 325-acre Plum Island open to the public while keeping Pilot Island closed for colonial nesting birds.

“We’re going to continue to support birds out there [on Pilot Island],” he said.

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

He said he doesn’t believe the plan put forth by the Sportsman’s Club to eradicate all the cormorants and other migratory birds that are now on the island is a realistic solution to restore it.

With limited federal funding available, the FWS fixed the lighthouse roof, Peterson said, and the agency plans to improve the dock at Pilot Island so that it could dock a boat there, with the island remaining closed to the public.Those who are unable to attend the Oct. 13 meeting in person may access it remotely at, or by calling 872.240.3212 and using the access code 715-139-133.