2010-05-01 / Front Page

ODNR Sentences Swans to Death

by Scott Rawdon and Charles Prince

FAIRFIELD BEACH - Some Island Avenue area residents are furious over an April 23 Ohio Division of Wildlife order authorizing some weekend residents to destroy a Mute swan family, which built a nest on their property at the end of Island Avenue.

Jeffrey Gerling who owns the property with his sister, Christine Heimrich, said in a written statement to The Beacon that the swans became very aggressive toward Heimrich. His statement says and neighbors confirm that the swans, who mate for life, first built a nest in their compost area which is some distance from their home. Gerling continues that "with substantial diligence she (his sister) was able to burn the refuse (being used for the nest) and we hoped that would end the swans’ attempt to nest on our property." Instead, the swans relocated the nest to some mulch in a flower bed approximately four feet from the front door. "The swans became so aggressive my sister could not complete lawn chores," Gerling's statement says. "This, in addition to swan droppings fowling (sic) the yard, sidewalk and front door as well as damage to landscape bushes and turf grass."

Richard Hill, who lives next door to the property where the swans nested, said the female swan, named Samantha by neighbors, and her two eggs were destroyed late Friday afternoon. The male, named Sam, was still gliding through area channels as of Wednesday. Hill said Sam can't be destroyed unless he reenters the nesting property, so neighbors are holding vigils to keep him away. "We're still at it," he said.

He added that Heimrich tried to drive the swans away from their new nest with a lawn mower and string trimmer. Hill said it's not surprising that the swans would try to protect their nest and the eggs.

Neighbors, many of whom fed the swans by hand regularly, say they aren't aggressive. Gary Preston, who lives further down the channel, said the swans, that arrived in early March, were initially a bit standoffish, but quickly got used to everyone. Bob and Frieda Dyer who live on the other side of the channel said the swans and their Irish terrier peacefully coexist, with no barking or hissing.

Hill said the neighbors are aware Mute swans are not indigenous to the United States and have no protection rights, but they believe killing the birds is unnecessary. "We all think there should be another solution to destroying them," he said. Hill said there was no notification to anyone that the swans were to be destroyed and he knows of a couple farmers who would've accepted the birds. "There was no discussion whatsoever," he said. "They were just gone on Friday. I wish somebody would come up with a better policy."

He added that city dwellers who have weekend retreats at Buckeye Lake should expect wildlife to surround them when they visit. "When you come from Columbus, you have to expect this stuff," said Hill.

District One Wildlife Management Supervisor Gary A. Ludwig issued the destruction permit to Heimrich. “Officer Zerkle (Fairfield County Wildlife officer) verified the presence of Mute swans at 4907 Island Ave. in the community of Thornville and concurs that the swans were properly identified," he wrote. "He is also aware of your intent to destroy these Mute swans and the associated eggs and nest at your earliest convenience." The permit sets a May 1, 2010 deadline for the swans to be destroyed.

Ludwig sent a detailed response to The Beacon's inquiry about the matter. The complete text of his comments starts on Page 6. "Long story short; Mute swans are not protected by any federal law (as are migratory bids 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 becomes a nuisance."

The complete text of Jeffrey Gerling's statement appears on Page 11.

This isn't just a Buckeye Lake issue. "There has been a long-standing effort from Divisions of Wildlife to eradicate the mute swan in North America," said Lucinda Lewis of the New Jersey based Mute Swan Advocacy. She said there were several committees formed to study the possibility that mute swans, considered an immigrant and invasive species, competed with native waterfowl and pulled up the grasses native species needed to survive. "There is a huge effort to remove all non-native species of flora and fauna in this country regardless of the benefit some bring, and an extremely effective effort to accomplish this goal has been set in motion, without public awareness for the most part, against the mute swan," said Lewis.

"It is only when they nest that the male becomes aggressive with others who come too close," said Lewis. "He protects his family. Isn't that reasonable? I don't understand why some people go on the mission of killing."

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