Waterfowl Habitat Projects for Your Property

June 13, 2013

Habitat projects create valuable breeding grounds for waterfowl. Image by Scott Ruduner.

If you’re like us, and we know you are, you do what you can to support waterfowl and waterfowl habitat. Organizations like Ducks Unlimited (DU) and Delta Waterfowl spend millions of dollars in donations annually to preserve and support waterfowl habitat and breeding grounds. Many...

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Whitetail Overcrowding: Deer Waste Could Affect Winter Habitats

June 4, 2013

During winter, whitetails conserve energy and eat less, surviving on fat built up during the summer.

A new study by researchers at Michigan Technological University (MTU) finds that the next problem to befall whitetailed deer may be the most unlikely: their own waste. According to a report published in the Ecological Society of America journal Ecology, the animals’ nitrogen-rich waste may be...

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Good News in Ecology: The Detroit River Revival

May 31, 2013

A Peregrine Falcon with the Detroit skyline in the background. Once a polluted and nigh-uninhabitable mess, the Detroit River and its surrounding ecosystem has undergone a major restoration that can serve as a model for other waterways. Image courtesy DTE Energy.

Recently the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the 2008-2009 National Rivers and Stream Assessment Survey about the quality of waterways in the U.S. gathered from approximately 2,000 sites across the country. Some of the findings include: Twenty-one percent of the nation’s rivers and streams are...

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Just What Happened to All Those Ducks?

April 2, 2013

Just What Happened to All Those Ducks?

The 2012-2013 waterfowl season might have some wondering–what happened to the all the ducks in portions of the Mississippi Flyway? Breeding predictions had many thinking we might have incredible success with a 15 percent increase in mallards, 10 percent increase in gadwall, 20 percent increase in green-winged teal and a 21 percent jump in scaup. I know from a very robust personal sampling across many hunting days along the Missouri River in mid-Missouri those ducks just did not show up. Some publicly managed areas in Missouri along the river had populations of ducks at almost 200,000, but reports were confounding for non-public ground hunters with 750,000 mallards holding in South Dakota as late as mid-December. Had it not been for winter storm Bruce, hunter frustration might have been even higher.

So what might have happened? Borrowing from Dale Humburg, Ducks Unlimited’s chief scientist, some likely had great seasons and some did not. It was a year of extreme deviation from the mean. A look at several possibilities is worth exploring, including the summer drought, farming, and a most influential La Niña.

By June 2012, it was apparent the drought in the Midwest was going to become newsworthy, not to mention the warmest year on record in Missouri and other states since 1895. It was in fact in the top three droughts on record for Missouri and prevails into the new year. Following extensive flooding in 2011 along the Missouri River, 2012 presented a drastic change. Moist soil habitat actually in many locations recovered very well after spending almost four months under water in 2011, but farm crops suffered. Corn was planted in the most acres since 1937, yet thousands of acres of prime river bottom land had poor crop yields and as a result many farmers began an early assault on corn converting it to silage to save a total loss. A few farmers held out optimistically for bushels of $8 corn, but the early corn harvest created a chain of events that soon left fields ready to spring plant. By late November in many areas, anhydrous ammonia incorporation had farm suppliers scrambling to meet the fertilizer demand that would normally come in April or May the following year. As the drought continued, the planting of winter wheat also declined or was delayed with little or no rain to begin the germination process.

The bottom line for the fall of 2012 was a lack of food or water to stop or hold birds along many areas on the Missouri River. Public areas managed for food and with heavy pumping of water could and did draw and hold birds. However, even some of those public areas adjacent to the Missouri River had pumping limitations as the river dropped to precarious levels at all gauging stations below Gavins Point Dam.

Secondarily, the drought took a while to show itself in ponds and lakes, but by the early September teal season, the water levels were making history. Missouri, in most areas, saw record low precipitation with Kansas City receiving only 20.94 inches in 2012 when normally nearly 40 inches would fall. This year and 1953 were 125-year records for low precipitation, translating to low river levels and little or no rain to refill lakes and ponds. Pot holes and shallow ponds were dry by mid-October. As someone that takes an interest in waterfowl and water resources, I continue to be amazed at the number of dry ponds. But even with water, many experienced few birds during the fall migration.

It is becoming clearer that drought may have an impact on bird migration. In 2011, bird counts in Texas revealed Whooping Cranes arrived to overwinter on the coast, but soon departed due to a lack of food. Other species that do not tend to migrate as far south as Texas migrated extreme distances in search of food outside their normal migration pattern. Even more evidence is the Sandhill Crane never reaching the warmer climates of the coast, but rather stopping in mid-prairie states.

Global weather, perhaps above all other influences, was a huge player this fall (and last year) with a dominant La Niña holding on to North American weather patterns for an unprecedented third year. La Niña is the colder baby sister of El Niño. Cold ocean La Niña temperatures in the equatorial Pacific have a significant impact especially during the winter months on the continental United States. Northeastern states are warmer and southwestern and southeastern states are cooler. This long lasting La Niña is well beyond the normal one- and two-year occurrence. The influences on drought, temperature, and duck migration are arguably noticeable and this is especially true in the Midwest, where La Niña and El Niño tend to intersect. More to the point, the predictability of weather and associated migrations may be the most difficult in the Midwest to understand due to Pacific temperatures, but likely correlate with migration patterns. What we do recognize is that of the six La Niña years between 1964 and 1995, three of them have corresponded to lower-than-normal duck harvests.

While a weak El Niño tried to form in the early fall, it was regulated by a cold neutral La Niña. Weak El Niños provide a cooler, wetter fall. Early on the jet stream was predicted to dip in the Central and Pacific flyways, but rise over the Midwest Mississippi Flyway and create a dry, warm weather pattern with few fronts capable of pushing birds south. Snow failed to materialize due to the warm flow of air and generally it was late in December before snow cover closed off feeding grounds in northern states. The warm weather held the freezing to a minimum as well, so birds had food and water but little in the way of weather pressure to move south from northern states.

One can understand the frustration with predicted high numbers of ducks and for some a dismal hunting harvest. Drought, farming practices, food shortages, and weather played a critical role in the fall Mississippi Flyway 2012 migration. Keep an eye out in 2013 as the La Niña hopefully begins to dissipate and a warmer El Niño moves in to shift the jet stream east and provide more normal rainfall, more cold fronts, a staggered crop harvest, and a better duck migration.

Read and join the discussion on Just What Happened to All Those Ducks? at

Minnesota and Its Missing Moose

March 12, 2013

Even though moose sign like tracks, droppings, skulls, antlers and rubbed trees might still be common in parts of northeastern Minnesota, the population has plunged the past few years.

When finding mountains of moose droppings and sometimes seeing more moose than whitetails during my past 10 deer seasons in northeastern Minnesota, I assumed the region would forever hold strong moose numbers.

After all, the moose’s horse-size tracks were common in fresh snow, as were chin-high rubs on bark-shredded balsams. I also regularly packed out moose skulls and antlers I found while hunting deer.

Plus, I saw moose regularly. One day this past November, for example, I heard snapping branches and muck-sucking hoofs ahead while sneaking along a black-spruce bog. Instinctively, I half-shouldered my .280 rifle and scanned above and beyond its scope. I relaxed when spotting a cow moose high-stepping through spruce and tag alders, its calf close behind.

What a sight. These homely creatures are tall, dark, and gangly; the closest thing you’ll ever see to Abe Lincoln on four legs. Still, their appearance didn’t shock me. I’d seen more moose sign than deer sign the previous three hours.

But looks can deceive when applied beyond the roughly 10 square miles my friends and I hunt in and around Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Outside our moose hot spot, northeastern Minnesota’s moose numbers have plunged so far that the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced in February it was canceling this fall’s moose hunt.

Just so we’re clear, hunting didn’t hurt the moose herd, and closing the season won’t spark its rebound. Hunts since 2007 were limited to bulls, and the state sold only enough tags to reduce the herd by 2 percent.

Although their DNR won’t say it, Minnesotans might never again hunt moose in their state. The last time Minnesota closed the hunt with no timetable for return was 1923, when moose numbered 3,000 statewide, and were beset by poor habitat from rampant logging and wildfires.

As forests regrew the next 50 years, moose returned. Hunting resumed in 1971 in odd-numbered years when moose numbers averaged 5,000 to 8,000 in northwestern and northeastern Minnesota.

The northeastern hunt closed in 1991 but reopened in 1993 as an annual season. The northwestern hunt continued until 1997 when its moose herd crashed. That region’s herd now seems doomed, despite improving habitat.

Minnesota’s moose hunts have been closed and reopened before, but the likelihood of this happening again remains uncertain.

Meanwhile, the northeastern herd peaked at 8,840 in 2006, but generally suffered gradual, fluctuating declines since 2002. The drop recently worsened. The population estimate this winter was 2,760, a 69 percent plunge from seven years ago. That’s also a decline of 52 percent since 2010 and 35 percent from a year ago.

Unlike the crisis of habitat 90 years ago, this calamity isn’t so easily diagnosed. To learn more, researchers between 2002 and 2008 attached radio-transmitting collars to 150 moose. The results improved the DNR’s aerial surveys, and helped the biologists track moose movements and home-range sizes, as well as survival rates.

Unfortunately, the research couldn’t explain what kills most moose. Of the study’s 89 non-hunting moose deaths from 2002 to 2010, 74 percent remain of unknown cause. Known causes are vehicle collisions, 11 percent; wolves, 10 percent; poaching, 3 percent; and train collisions, 2 percent.

What’s the best guess for the decline? Biologists speculate it’s a deadly combination of chronic health woes and physical stress linked to warmer, shorter winters and hotter, longer summers.

Moose are built for winters and habitats whitetails can’t long tolerate, making the upper Great Lakes’ forests the southern fringe of moose country. Researches believe a moose’s summer coat causes stress in temperatures above 64 degrees, and its winter coat causes stress in temps above 19 degrees. Temperatures in recent summers hit the 80s or 90s for weeks. Likewise, recent winters were among the mildest on record.

All that warmth also unleashed tick infestations. Some dead moose literally crawl with ticks. Estimates of tick numbers on some host moose range from 50,000 to 150,000.

Further, biologists have long hypothesized that moose herds can’t tolerate large deer herds because moose often die from brain worms that deer carry but shed without being harmed. As northern Minnesota’s deer herds increased since the 1980s, it’s possible brain worm problems worsened for moose.

The Minnesota DNR hopes a $1.2 million study launched this winter will help explain the population crash. Researchers recently attached GPS collars to 111 moose to better document their patterns and movements.

The collars also signal if the moose dies. With GPS pinpointing death sites, researchers hope to respond quickly to determine the cause of death before heat or freezing cold destroys vital clues, such as the tracks brain worms cut through tissue.

Explaining a population crash, however, doesn’t mean rebuilding it. Nature, after all, remains beyond our control.

Read and join the discussion on Minnesota and Its Missing Moose at

Michigan Wildlife Migrates as Climate Warms, Forests Recover

October 17, 2012

Wildlife Migrates as Climate Warms, Forests Recover

Bears, porcupines, bobcats and pileated woodpeckers are moving their homes far to the south, while small mammals like mice, squirrels, chipmunks and opossums are moving north, according to the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy.

This mutual shift in wildlife distributions and densities – together with an exploding population of certain species – is becoming evident in many locations across the state.

John Niewoonder, a Department of Natural Resources(DNR) state wildlife biologist based in Grand Rapids, said the best example is the black bear. “Black bears are rare, even seven years ago in Grand Rapids. Usually they appear in the Upper North, but this year we see them outside the city.”

“People saw bears a couple of years ago in the Lansing area. This did not happen very often 30 years ago.” Said Patrick Rusz, director of wildlife animal programs at the conservancy in Bath.

Bears aren’t the only animals from the north that are showing up in southern Michigan, according to Rusz. For example, porcupines are now seen on up on roads in Saginaw and other southern areas because of the re-growth of forests.

“Re-growth of forests plays a significant role in wildlife’s southward shift,” said Philip Myers, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan. “Forests are in much better shape today than they have been since the logging and fires of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”

According to Myers, rebuilding state parks and abandoning farms are two main reasons for that re-growth. And its consequence is more than a distribution shift: the Southern Michigan wild turtle, which had disappeared prior to the 1990s, has come back to the state.

Rusz said “We thought there would be no more of these turtles anymore.”

Wildlife’s southward distributions are happening along a wide area, he said. “It is pretty much all over southern Michigan. Bobcats, for example have even moved to the Ohio border down from their original habitat.”

On the other hand, Myers and his research team found that four southern species, including white-footed mouse, southern flying squirrel, eastern chipmunk and opossum are pushing their northern boundary northwards.

Myers said that’s because the climate is warming.

“We looked at a number of possible reasons, but only climatic warming predicted the remarkable pattern we uncovered,” he said.

Shifting of wildlife is causing problems in many locales. For instance, deer showing up in urban areas are causing traffic problems.

According to the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy, 17 percent of car accidents in the state involve deer. Michigan motorists reported 53,592 vehicle-deer crashes in 2011. As a result, 1,464 people were injured and eight people were killed. Kent County had the highest number with 1,750 such crashes in 2011.

“The Detroit metro area, Oakland and Jackson counties will have a lot of deer problems, and they will go down to all of southeast Michigan,” Rusz said. To reduce the “out-of-control” deer population, local hunts will happen in Meridian and Spring Lake township.

The fact that deer explore forests lead to faster migration of other animals. “Deer provide good travel road for them,” said Rusz.

According to Julie Oakes, a DNR wildlife biologist based in Oakland County, young male animals are always looking to establish their territories, which lead them into urban areas where they may be hit by vehicles.

Deer aren’t the only proliferating species.

Niewoonder said “The white-tailed deer cause some problems in Grand Rapids. They damage crops, they cause car accidents a lot and they eat farmers’ vegetation and residents’ landscape.”

Meanwhile, Oakes is focusing on control of the goose. “We have a lot of lakes, so a lot of geese.” She said animals are always connected to the community. “Farmers hate geese but hunters will never have enough geese.”

And Rusz said widen distribution allows wildlife’s long-term survival, compared to isolated territory.

He also said that there is a lot for public agencies to do. “People and animals always like the same environment, and we always need to learn to get along with wildlife.”

Niewoonder said “In the Grand Rapids area, we get farmers damage permits so they can shoot white tail deer out of the hunting season. We also educated drivers about animals crossing the road.”

But Myers said state and local governments should pay more attention to wildlife overpopulation.

“Unfortunately, these kinds of overpopulation tend to take care of themselves,” Myers said. “We are about due for an epidemic of rabies or distemper in the raccoon population, and we have seen TB in the deer herd in the northern Lower Peninsula.”

This article originally appeared on Great Lakes Echo and is republished with permission.

Read and join the discussion on Michigan Wildlife Migrates as Climate Warms, Forests Recover at

Hunters: How You Can Help Prevent the Spread of Invasive Species

October 10, 2012

Houndstongue seeds covering a dog

Editor’s note: This article was originally produced with an audience of Nebraskan sportsmen and women in mind, but we believe its message can apply to outdoorspersons all cross the country. Also featured below are additional tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Sportsmen and sportswomen have been a driving force behind conservation by helping maintain wildlife populations and reducing habitat loss.

Hunters and anglers help fund state wildlife conservation through the purchase of licenses and federal excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment support management programs. As a result, tens of millions of acres of wildlife habitat have been conserved throughout the United States, ensuring the survival of hunting and fishing traditions for future generations.

Today, wildlife and fish are facing a threat: invasive species.

All sportsmen depend on the existence of healthy ecosystems to hunt and fish. Wildlife requires adequate habitat — food, shelter, water and plenty of space — to reproduce and maintain healthy populations. Invasive species threaten vital wildlife and fish habitat, posing a threat to two of Nebraska’s oldest traditions — hunting and fishing.

For thousands of Nebraskans, hunting and fishing are activities that are passed down over generations. Nebraska offers some of the best hunting and fishing in the country, and, thus, it is critical to protect the habitats that support wildlife and fisheries.

With upcoming hunting seasons, sportsmen can take these steps to help protect critical wildlife habitat against the impacts of invasive species.

  • Waterfowl hunters: The invasion of common reed (Phragmites) and purple loosestrife in wetland areas and along shorelines has devastated habitat for waterfowl in Nebraska.
    • Before leaving an area, thoroughly check your waders, boots, decoys, boat, dogs, clothing and anything else that came into contact with water. Remove as much of the mud and vegetation as possible before heading out. Bulb-shaped decoy anchors can help reduce snagging of aquatic plants. Using native plants, instead of Phragmites, for blinds will help prevent unwanted species from spreading.
  • Upland hunters: Upland hunting is a big part of Nebraska’s heritage, but invasive species such as houndstongue and musk thistle are threatening the habitat required by upland species.
    • Sidestep infested areas. Avoid driving or walking through areas that are infested with invasive species. Clean mud, seeds and vegetation off your vehicle, pets and even your boots before going to your next spot.
  • Big game hunters: Woodland habitat that big game animals rely on is being taken over by a variety of invasive species. Garlic mustard and European buckthorn are becoming all too familiar, but some invasive species are not here yet, such as the emerald ash borer. This and other invasive insects can wipe out Nebraska’s forest habitat.
    • Do not move firewood. Invasive insects and diseases are easily transported to new areas in firewood. Burn firewood where you buy it to help protect our forests and trees.

Invasive species pose a serious threat to Nebraska’s landscapes, resources and wildlife. Invasive species also are an expensive problem, costing the Midwest millions of dollars in damages and management efforts each year.


Unfortunately, hunters and anglers are bearing the brunt of those negative impacts. Sportsmen, perhaps more than any other group, are uniquely positioned to expand and promote the fight against invasive species. If you come across invasive species, let us know. Reporting problem areas will help us maintain healthy habitats, and protect hunting opportunities for future generations.

For more information, or to report an invasive species, visit the Nebraska Invasive Species Project at

Karie Decker is the Nebraska Invasive Species Project Coordinator. Contact her at 402-472-3313 or

Additional Tips

  • Be aware — Know which invasive species are a problem in the areas you hunt and fish. Watch for changes in those spots. If you see a plant that was not there last season, identify it and do a little research. If you think the plant is invasive, report it.
  • Report sightings — Before your next hunting or fishing trip, download the free MRWC-EDDMapS invasive species reporting app for Android and iPhone. If you spot an invasive species, use the app to report it. Reports are sent to the appropriate authorities for verification. Download it from
  • Spread the word — Tell friends and family about the problems invasive species pose to wildlife and fish habitat and let them know what they can do to help.

This article was originally written by Karie Decker and is republished with permission.

Read and join the discussion on Hunters: How You Can Help Prevent the Spread of Invasive Species at

Michigan Pheasants Forever Representative Recognized for Conservation Efforts

August 22, 2012

Michigan Pheasants Forever Representative Recognized for Conservation Efforts

Pheasants Forever (PF) and Quail Forever (QF) recently held its annual staff retreat in Lanesboro, Minn., during which employee awards were presented to members of the PF and QF national team. Ben Wickerham, a Michigan native and the state’s Pheasants Forever regional representative, was presented with the “Rookie of the Year” award. This award recognizes the employee who exhibits significant contributions in his/her first year of employment.

“Receiving this recognition from Pheasants Forever is among my top achievements in my professional career.  However, this was really more of a testament to the growing momentum of Pheasants Forever’s grassroots conservation mission among our Michigan chapters,” says Wickerham, “In the past year, chapters have exceeded expectations for contributions to the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative, have delivered an eight-year high for Legislative Action funding, recruited more members to our banquets, and set an all-time high for youth participation in outdoor youth events thanks to the help of Pheasants Forever’s new Michigan Youth Coordinator, Eric Larsen.”

Wickerham has been Pheasants Forever’s Michigan regional representative since September of 2011. Prior to his position with Pheasants Forever, Wickerham held various positions with Conservation Districts around Michigan, including the Michigan Association of Conservation Districts where he served as State Coordinator for the Envirothon program.

“In his first year with Pheasants Forever, Ben has excelled in all aspects of his role as the organization’s Michigan regional representative,” says Rick Young, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever vice-president of field operation, “From rallying awareness of our dedicated Michigan chapters, to working hand-in-hand daily with employees from across the country, to becoming a significant voice for Michigan’s Pheasant Restoration Initiative, Ben’s professionalism and conservation determination earned him, and Michigan, this well-deserved award.”

A graduate of Michigan State University with a bachelor’s degree in zoology, Wickerham is a second-generation Pheasants Forever volunteer. Over 26 years ago, his father helped form one of the state’s original Pheasants Forever chapters in Montcalm County. Wickerham currently lives in Flushing, Mich., with his wife, Elizabeth; son, Gus; and dog, Murphy.

Michigan is home to 37 PF chapters and combined over 8,000 PF/QF members. For more information regarding “The Habitat Organization” in Michigan, please contact Ben Wickerham at (517) 316-5106 / Email Ben. For all other inquiries, please contact Rehan Nana, Pheasants Forever public relations specialist, at (651) 209-4973 / Email Rehan.

Pheasants Forever, including its quail conservation division, Quail Forever, is the nation’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to upland habitat conservation. Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever have more than 135,000 members and 720 local chapters across the United States and Canada. Chapters are empowered to determine how 100 percent of their locally raised conservation funds are spent, the only national conservation organization that operates through this truly grassroots structure.

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Michigan May Open a Limited Hunting Season for Invasive Mute Swans

April 23, 2012

Michigan DNR May Open a Limited Hunting Season for Mute Swans

Efforts by Michigan officials to cull 13,500 mute swans by 2030 have begun. State employees have already killed some mute swans and are allowing residents with a free permit to take their own swans.

Officials claim that an increase in mute swans is displacing native swans and other species, destroying wetlands and intimidating boaters. They have even been documented as the culprits of two human deaths on the East Coast.

The orange-billed mute swan is not native to North America. Its descendents were brought here by Europeans for their beauty in the 1800s and the swans subsequently escaped into the wild. Defenders of the bird are calling for more research before the beginning of the culling program.

Researchers will be testing the toxicology of swans to determine if swan meat is safe to eat. Mute swans are bottom-feeders which means they could potentially ingest pesticides and heavy metals that accumulate at the bottom of lakes. Read the full report below to find out ongoing research, more on mute swan background and debate from both sides of the story.

Original press release issued by Great Lakes Echo on April 23, 2012:

By: Erica Hamling

Michigan officials are asking residents to help shoot and kill 13,500 mute swans.

But before hunters and fearful lakefront property owners grab their rifles, defenders of the birds are asking for more research to spare the lives of these lake dwellers.

One issue is whether there could be confusion with the swans that are native to Michigan.

“It makes no sense that these swans can’t coexist. The mutes have been here so long and people like feeding and watching them,” said Karen Stamper, a Walled Lake resident and mute swan advocate. “We have more water in our state than most other places in the world.”

Efforts to achieve the state’s long-term goal of killing the birds by 2030 have begun. State employees have killed some and they are letting residents know that with a permit, they can do the same.

All the Great Lakes states report problems with an increase in mute swans that displace native swans and other species, destroy wetlands and even intimidate boaters. Wisconsin and Ohio have killed mute swans in recent years; Michigan has the most ambitious plan yet to kill mute swans.

Michigan also has the largest mute swan population in North America with 15,500, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The mute swan is non-native to North America and is increasing in population 9 percent to 10 percent each year, which is causing some big problems, according to Barbara Avers, a waterfowl and wetlands specialist from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

They were brought to the U.S. from Europe in the 1800s for their beauty. Some escaped captivity, establishing populations in several states. Michigan’s population began with one pair in Charlevoix County in 1919, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

One of the biggest problems: Mute swans’ aggression toward humans is increasingly dangerous for people in boats and on shore, Avers said.

“They are considered the most aggressive waterfowl species in the world,” Avers said. “So as we see an increase in the species, we are also seeing an increase in reports about mute swan attacks.”

Although most of the hostile behavior directed at people is bluffing, mute swans can inflict cuts, bruises, sprains and bone fractures. In at least two cases on the East Coast, mute swan attacks resulted in human deaths, according to David Marks, a wildlife disease biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Mute swans keep one of Michigan’s native swan species, the trumpeter swan, from breeding. Both favor similar habitats for breeding and the mute swan begins nesting three weeks earlier than the trumpeter, defending the entire area. The trumpeter swan is on the state’s threatened species list.

“People often say to us that the swans they see aren’t causing any problems,” Avers said.

But some of the problems go below the surface.

Mute swans eat underwater plants. They uproot them, eating far less than what they grab. That destroys the habitat for native species, especially the fish.

“If you have a large flock of mute swans feeding on this bed of vegetation you can imagine that in a pretty short time, they can do quite a bit of damage,” Avers said.

There isn’t a hunting season, but the state allows citizens to register for free permits to shoot mute swans. Such permits first became available in 2006, but with the recent goal of killing thousands of mute swans, the state is re-publicizing their availability.

Permits are also available to destroy their nests, a less efficient method of reducing the mute swan population, Marks said.

With a permit, people can remove nests and destroy mute swan eggs. Although this slows population growth, it does not stop the adult mute swans from continuing to mate.

Stamper, along with other mute swan advocates, dispute the reasons cited for killing 90 percent of the state’s mute swans.

The aggressiveness is just instinct, Stamper said. Humans act the same way when protecting their young.

“I have pictures of a red wing black bird chasing a goose that went too close to its nest,” Stamper said in a letter to a local government agency. “I have a goose going after a swan that was too close to its babies. It’s nature. The same thing happens when a hawk or crow takes a baby from a blue jay, starling, or wren. It does not matter how large or small the animal, they will go after anything that tries to harm their baby.”

She worries that lakefront owners may not distinguish one type of swan from another. Native swans could get killed during the attempt to destroy mute swans.

“If they think there is a swan out there and it shows any kind of aggression or they can’t get their jet ski out, they aren’t going to care if it’s a trumpeter or a mute,” Stamper said. “If it’s in the way, they are going to kill it.”

The most significant difference between mute swans and native swan species is that adult mute swans have orange bills and native swans have black bills. Mute swans also have a black knob on the top of their bill and native swans do not, according to the state’s website.

Although mute swan population control first began in 1960, Stamper started a petition to stop the killing in February 2011. She has received 2,000 signatures and the attention of the state.

“We realize they are a very beautiful species, they are very conspicuous, people come into contact with them a lot and love viewing them,” Avers said.

But eliminating the mute swan is for the greater good of all other things living in Michigan, she said.

Stamper doesn’t believe there has been sufficient research done in Michigan to support that position.

More Michigan-based research is coming.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services recently received funding to look into some unanswered toxicology questions about the species in Michigan, according to Marks.

The mute swans that have been killed yield useful information, Marks said.

Researchers will be testing for toxics and contaminants to see whether mute swan meat is safe to eat.

“They are not typically a species people eat but we do get asked that question,” Marks said. “If you want to manage your mute swans you can work with the DNR to get a permit and people always want to know, ‘can we eat the meat?’ and nobody here knows how it tastes yet.”

Because mute swans typically feed off the bottom of a lake, which is where pesticides and heavy metals tend to accumulate, Marks feels more research is necessary before humans consume the meat.

Some of the mute swans that have been killed are tested for influenza, Newcastle disease and parasites that cause swimmer’s itch to see if mute swans play a role in transferring these illnesses.

Invasive nonnative species are a longstanding environmental threat. The nonnative emerald ash borer is an example of an invasive species that killed thousands of trees in Michigan beginning in 2002. More recently, the nonnative feral or wild swine’s rapidly increasing population is on the state’s radar. The feral swine hosts parasites that threaten humans, domestic livestock and wildlife.

Marks expects some results from the mute swan research will be available to the public by March of 2013.

And for the people living in Michigan, perhaps mute swan will be on the dinner table by next Thanksgiving.

Republished with permission by Great Lakes Echo.

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