Hunters are getting the blame for a decline in Rocky Mountain trumpeter swans. Wildlife experts say hunters mistake them for tundra swans, which can be legally hunted.
"It seems clear to me that most of the problems with trumpeters are directly related to the authorized hunting of tundra swan," Richard Schwarz of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition told federal and state wildlife managers at a meeting on trumpeter swans in Idaho Falls this week.Conservationists blame tundra swan hunters in part for thwarting attempts to expand the trumpeter's range to Utah and Nevada.
The rare trumpeter swan, the largest North American waterfowl species, bears a strong resemblance to the smaller, more common tundra swan. Nevada and Utah have tundra swan hunting seasons. Idaho does not. Schwarz said modifying or curtailing hunting could save trumpeters.
"You people may be the ones who are directly responsible for the listing of the trumpeter swan as threatened or endangered. You sure will be unless you take some practical and relatively painless actions," Schwarz told members of a group that advises the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service on trumpeter management.
Schwarz's opinions are not supported by waterfowl experts on the committee who represent Nevada and Utah.
"I don't think that we have the necessary data to determine how we should modify hunting at this point," said Tom Aldrich, waterfowl coordinator for Utah's Department of Natural Resources. "I think there is some filtered information that has gotten out to the public that has resulted in some biases in the public's perception of what is happening."
There are no current studies on trumpeter fatalities as a result of the tundra swan hunting season in Nevada or Utah.
Norman Saake, wildlife biologist for the Nevada Department of Wildlife, said there isn't enough data to restrict Nevada hunting.
"I will fight this tooth and nail unless there is a biological reason to restrict hunting in Nevada," he said.
The areas in and around Harriman State Park and Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Reserve in Montana sustain a resident population of about 300. But each winter the population zooms when about 2,000 trumpeters migrate from western Canada.
There isn't enough vegetation to support the winter population, particularly at Harriman State Park in Island Park where the huge birds concentrate.
Wildlife managers are trying to scatter the birds, including harassing and transporting birds to other regions. Shea said Utah and Nevada are logical places for the birds to go in the winter, but so far that isn't happening, and tundra swan hunting is likely one of the reasons.