A wildlife conservation order amendment prohibiting the release of mute swans back into the wild after being removed from the environment was passed by the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) in a 3-2 vote on Thursday, Feb. 10.
Mute swans are considered an invasive, non-native species in the United States. The species, native to Europe and some parts of Asia, was initially brought to the U.S. for its ornamental value.
However, since then, mute swans have been able to out-compete other native waterfowl for breeding habitats and continue to reproduce at a high rate, according to state officials. State Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) statistics indicate Michigan’s mute swan population has risen from an estimated 5,400 in 2000 to an estimated 15,000 in 2010. The DNRE received these estimations from the Michigan Breeding Bird Atlas, according to DNRE Spokesperson Mary Detloff.
The DNRE maintains that mute swans are also considered to be voracious feeders that cause damage to submerged aquatic vegetation, which could pose a threat to native waterfowl and their ecological environment.
As such, the department hopes to lower the state’s mute swan population to 2,000 by 2030.
In an effort to accomplish that goal, the NRC last week approved the wildlife conservation order amendment which, according to Dettloff, prohibits the release of mute swans in the wild after being rehabilitated. Instead of rehabbing an injured or sick bird, the DNRE suggests the mute swan should be euthanized.
“We understand that there will be some people who will be upset,” Detloff said. “There are also others who are greatly supportive, including the Audubon Society, the Michigan Rehabilitators Association, and waterfowl hunting groups.”
She also pointed out that mute swans are not a native species in Michigan, unlike the trumpeter swan and the migratory tundra swan. As such, the DNRE plans to manage the mute swans better by bringing the population into balance with the rest of the waterfowl the DNRE manages.
Some lakes area residents are upset by the NRC’s decision.
Karen Stamper, a Walled Lake resident who has been attending recent NRC meetings and fighting on behalf of the mute swans, said she believes rehabbers should have been allowed to continue their efforts considering the low number of swans rehabilitated each year, especially as most swan injuries are caused by people.
“I think it’s pathetic (that) for the amount of swans that the rehabbers take in per year — all parties agreed 40 was the magic number — that they couldn’t allow them to continue their rehab efforts,” she said.
Sharon Knoll Smith of Bloomfield Township also attended the Feb. 10 NRC meeting and said she agrees with Stamper.
“I am really very upset at the decision,” she said. “These are man-made injuries that swans are suffering. Why won’t they let human beings try to repair the harm they have done to swans?”
Patricia Rusnell, a Commerce Township resident, also attended the Feb. 10 NRC meeting and said she doesn’t believe mute swans should suffer for the DNRE’s mismanagement efforts.
“There’s a lot of questions that still need to be answered,” she said. “The whole discussion (at the meeting) was about killing and getting rid of the swans — not just about rehabbers not rehabbing,” she said.