2010-05-01 / Editorials & Letters

Division of Wildlife’s statement on swans

District One Wildlife Manaement Supervisor Gary A. Ludwig provided the following statement to The Beacon on April 27.

“In regards to mute swans, the Division of Wildlife considers them a non-native invasive species. Mute swans are native to Europe and Asia and were introduced into North America during the late 1800s as decorative waterfowl. They have now established wild populations in all four flyways from escaped and released birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has traditionally excluded non-native species from the list of migratory birds, which are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The Migratory Bird Treaty Reform Act (MBTRA) of 2004 upheld that position and removed federal protection from all non-native avian species, including mute swans. Under the Ohio Administrative Code, the mute swan was originally defined as a non-game species in Ohio because it was not listed as a game species. However, OAC language was changed in the 2006 omnibus bill to modify the definition of migratory game birds to include mute swans. Long story short-mute swans are not protected by any federal law (as are migratory birds like Trumpeter swans, Canada geese and Mallard ducks). Mute swans are however considered a migratory bird under Ohio Administrative Code, so we regulate take according to OAC. Whenever they become a problem for private landowners, we can issue them special letter permits to control, remove and/or euthanize them, just as we might for any other native animal that become a nuisance.

“It is important to understand that the Division of Wildlife frequently issues letter permits to private landowners to deal with various nuisance wildlife. Common examples include muskrats burrowing into pond dikes and beavers damming up streams and flooding crop fields. In other situations where deer are damaging farm crops, we have a formal permit program to allow landowners to kill deer outside of normal hunting seasons when actual crop damage is occurring. In another formal permit program, we can issue permits to private individuals and businesses who are experiencing damage associated with Canada geese. As I mentioned earlier, Canada geese are migratory birds that are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Division of Wildlife in fact must obtain a permit from the USF&WS to allow us to issue lethal control permits for Canada geese to Ohio residents even though most of the geese causing problems in Ohio were born and raised here. With Canada geese, a common problem is aggressive attacks by geese against people during the nesting season. In these situations, we can issue permits to individuals or businesses experiencing the attacks to destroy eggs and nests and in some cases, destroy the offending geese as well. This is all done in accordance with the permit that we receive from the USF&WS. Had Mute swans been under the control of the MBTA, we would have referred the complainant to the Wildlife Services section of the US Dept. of Agriculture, who could have in turn worked with them to obtain a permit to remove the Mute swans. Since they are not a species covered by the MBTA and are under State protection only, we followed policy by issuing the private landowner a permit to control the swans inhabiting their property. It is my understanding that the landowner had experienced aggressive attacks by a swan on her property and the only realistic way to stop those attacks was to remove the nest. Since the mute swan is a non-native invasive species, we also authorized euthanasia of the swans if they had the opportunity to capture them.

“It is the Division of Wildlife’s policy to eliminate mute swans on Division of Wildlife controlled lands whenever possible. We also encourage other public land holding agencies (such as State and Metropolitan Parks) to institute a mute swan control program whenever they see a population starting. We also offer technical assistance and can issue control permits to private landowners whenever they have problems with mute swans. The Division of Wildlife has many concerns about mute swans. By nature, mute swans are sedentary birds that migrate only short distances and usually only when severe weather dictates that they move to find open water and food. Mute swans feed extensively on aquatic vegetation, and in high densities they can overgraze an area. Aggressive behavior towards other species, including humans is another concern. Although the degree of antagonism varies among breeding pairs and within seasons, mute swans aggressively defend their nesting territories against other wildlife such as Canada geese, ducks, water birds, and mammals. Mute swans may even kill the intruding birds and their young. People have also been subjected to the swans’ attacks while boating. In the last two years, Indian Lake State Park has received complaints of aggressive attacks to boaters by mute swans. So far this spring, Indian Lake has documented at least three aggressive attacks against people and boaters by mute swans. Since the birds are very large (up to 16 lbs), they are capable of inflicting damage and serious injury to people, especially small children and the elderly, so it is important that aggressive swans be taken seriously.

Competition between mute swans and the state-endangered trumpeter swan occurs frequently in the Lake Erie marshes. Mute swans establish territories and initiate nesting about three weeks earlier than trumpeters and successfully defend them from trumpeter swans. With only 105,000 acres of marsh existing in Ohio (ODNR and OEPA 1999), the competition for this rare habitat has potential negative effects on the Division of Wildlife’s trumpeter swan restoration program. This is even more likely to occur as the mute swan population continues to increase. It has been estimated that the Great Lakes mute swan population has an annual growth rate of at least 10 percent, which would cause the population to double every seven or eight years.

“The bottom line is that mute swans are an invasive species that are not native to Ohio. The Division of Wildlife will take steps to reduce Mute swan populations on the lands we control, educate the public about the reasons why mute swan populations need to be controlled and offer advice and assistance on controlling mute swans to other public land holding agencies and private landowners whenever they request it. And because mute swans are not native, we do not allow them to be rehabilitated when injured or authorize any mute swans to be relocated to other areas.”

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