The Humane Society of the United States sent a letter last week outlining several proposals on how to address mute swan population issues, including a moratorium on the killing of the swans, to the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The Humane Society of the United States is not affiliated with the Michigan Humane Society.
According to Karen Stamper, a Walled Lake resident who has been fighting on behalf of mute swans for years, the Humane Society got involved in April after being separately alerted by Stamper and a Muskegon woman about the issues surrounding mute swans in Michigan, particularly the DNR recently approving a conservation order prohibiting the rehabilitation of injured or sick mute swans and their release back into the wild.
Stamper said she believes the Humane Society getting involved will help raise awareness of mute swan issues.
The mute swan is considered an exotic, invasive, non-native species in the United States, according to state and federal wildlife officials. Native to Europe and parts of Asia, the species is believed to have been introduced to North America from the mid-1800s through the early 1900s 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 DNR statistics, the Michigan population has risen from an estimated 5,400 in 2000 to an estimated 15,000 in 2010.
As a non-native species, the mute swan is not protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Therefore, the regulation of mute swans is the exclusive jurisdiction of states.
According to the DNR, mute swans pose threats to native wildlife, humans, and wetland habitats.
The DNR has a Mute Swan Management and Control Program Policy which outlines short- and long-term state population goals, which include reducing Michigan’s mute swan population growth to zero by 2016 and to reduce the overall population to less than 2,000 by 2030.
While hunting mute swans is not allowed, the DNR issues permits to remove mute swans and to destroy their nests and eggs.
More information on the Mute Swan Management and Control Program Policy can be found at www.michigan.gov/dnr.
According to the Humane Society letter to the DNR sent by Dr. John Grandy, senior vice president of wildlife and habitat protection for the Humane Society of the United States, the DNR’s program policy document is inadequate.
“Neither document provides more than summary assertions as to the presumably negative activities or behaviors attributed to free-ranging mute swans that could justify killing individual swans, much less the wholesale destruction of (tens) of thousands envisioned in the Order or Program Policy,” Grandy wrote.
He also wrote that there is a lack of supporting data and case studies that support the need for mass mute swan killing.
“There seem to be no concrete objectives short of unjustified lethal population reduction,” Grandy wrote. “Taken together the two documents are not a professional management plan at all — they are just a blueprint for large scale killing of mute swans.”
The Humane Society outlined several proposals after meeting with representatives of the DNR and included them in the letter. Initially, the Humane Society says the DNR should:
• Immediately suspend the Wildlife Division Mute Swan Management and Control Program Policy and Procedures and begin to immediately revise and update the document;
• Immediately appoint local mute swan advisory committees and a statewide committee, consisting of representatives of the Michigan Humane Society, the Michigan Save Our Swans Committee, and the Humane Society of the United States, along with others to advise the department on non-lethal management options and to liaise with the DNR in the development of a comprehensive mute swan stewardship and management plan; and
• Declare a voluntary moratorium on the lethal control of free ranging mute swans, except in emergency situations that would last until a new comprehensive plan is completed.
The DNR is currently reviewing the proposals.
“We just received it late last week,” said DNR Waterfowl Specialist Barbara Avers. “We will be reviewing that and then preparing a response to the proposal.”
“Hopefully, they will look at the proposal, and the public will get involved so that a moratorium will be put on the killings until we can work out a better plan between the various groups and the (Humane Society),” Stamper said.