The Humane Society of the United States has weighed in on the state’s plans for reducing Michigan’s mute swan population, sending the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) proposals on how it believes the state should address mute swan population issues. Although we’d like to see at least one change made, we’re not convinced the state’s mute swan management scheme is in need of wholesale revision.
The U.S. Humane Society got involved in the state’s mute swan management debate in April after being alerted by two people — including a lakes area resident — about mute swan issues in Michigan, particularly the recent approval of a conservation order prohibiting the rehabilitation of injured or sick mute swans and their release back into the wild.
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 the DNR, mute swans pose threats to native wildlife, humans, and wetland habitats. As such, the department’s Mute Swan Management and Control Program Policy 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. The department is expected to kill any swans removed from the environment.
The U.S. Humane Society says the DNR should:
• Immediately suspend the 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, until a new comprehensive plan is completed.
The DNR is currently reviewing the proposals.
The department’s mute swan management plan needs little in the way of revisions. However, we admit we’re not comfortable with the state’s recently revised conservation order that prohibits the rehabilitation of sick or injured swans and their release back into the environment. That prohibition does smack of being inhumane, even considering that mute swans are an exotic species and their presence here has real ramifications for the environment. We’re not convinced that the relatively few injured and sick birds that could be rehabilitated and released each year would pose a significant hindrance to the DNR’s population reduction goals — which do seem a bit ambitious and unrealistic.
Nonetheless, the proposed suspension of the remaining management policy and procedures; appointing local advisory committees; any work toward mute swan stewardship; and a moratorium on lethal controls are all unnecessary.
Frankly, the DNR’s mute swan management plan and population reduction procedures — with the exception of the above mentioned prohibition on releasing rehabilitated swans — are appropriate and reasonable, enough so that suspending the policy and procedures isn’t warranted.
We don’t quibble with the department’s insistence that lethal population controls be implemented on public land, such as the DNR’s parks, recreation areas, and other facilities the department is obligated to manage.
When it comes to controls elsewhere, we believe egg and nest destruction are appropriate approaches to mute swan population control. And because a local governing body must first authorize swan removal and egg and nest destruction, there’s already a local control aspect to the state plan that works. We’ve seen it work here in the lakes area, where Waterford and West Bloomfield officials, for example, have rejected requests for authorization of lethal controls. Elsewhere, such as in Wolverine Lake, where there’s been little or no public outcry against lethal controls, local officials have authorized such actions.
The notion of creating local, or even a statewide advisory panel to help draft stewardship plans is ludicrous. It makes no sense to devise ways to protect or preserve a species that doesn’t belong here and hampers the viability of native species. It would be ridiculous to draft a stewardship plan for invasive zebra mussels, for example, and the same holds true for exotic mute swans.
Yes, we’re aware few if any people develop an emotional attachment to zebra mussels, while many people do have an affinity for mute swans — which is why we’re willing concede the inhumane nature of banning the rehabilitation of sick and injured birds and releasing them. But beyond this somewhat counter-productive and admitted double-standard, mute swans should be treated the same as any other exotic, invasive species.