Swan cull makes way for native species at Lincoln Lake


By Ryan Jeltema • Last Updated 10:43 am on Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mute swans swim in Indian Lake near Howard City in 2009. The U.S. Department of Agriculture removed 53 of them from Lincoln Lake at the request of the lake property owners association. — File photo

SPENCER TOWNSHIP — Kay Akkerhuis enjoyed seeing dozens of swans when she looked out her window across the street from the south end of Lincoln Lake.

She won’t be able to see nearly as many swans after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Wildlife Services Division killed 53 of the 55 mute swans that made the lake their home.

“I think it’s atrocious. I am very upset about this,” Akkerhuis said. “I can’t understand the reason for it. They were beautiful on the lake.”

She acknowledged that boaters have had run-ins with the swans at times, but she hoped the swans wouldn’t need to be killed.

“It’s a disposable society,” Akkerhuis said. “Everything is disposable nowadays and that includes the swans.”

Dave Marks of the USDA was one of two Wildlife Services employees who culled the swans on Tuesday. He said the action was part of a statewide plan the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) enacted several years ago.

Mute swans are an invasive species from Europe that was introduced to the United States in the 1800s as an ornamental bird. Marks said the mute swans have no natural predator, thus their population has swelled to about 15,000 in Michigan.

“They basically have taken over the habitat now,” he said.
Lincoln Lake was home to 55 mute swans, two tundra swans and two trumpeter swans. Marks said the aggressive mute swans were taking over and destroying the habitat for the native tundra and trumpeter swans, which are considered endangered.

“It was actually a high priority site because of the presence of the native swans,” he said.

The Lincoln Lake Property Owners Association requested a permit from the DNR to have the mute swans removed. The DNR approved the permit and put the lake association in contact with the USDA to perform the culling.

Marks used short-range firearms to shoot the swans. He and his colleague brought the carcasses to land and safely disposed of them.

He said the work was performed in December because nobody was using the lake for recreation.
Marks said the state’s plan to significantly reduce the mute swan population was drafted with input from a variety of state, federal and private outdoors agencies and groups.

“We’ve been doing it for quite a while,” he said. “We have received support from a variety of stakeholders.”

Still, DNR spokeswoman Mary Dettloff said the outcry against killing the swans is common.

“People get upset because they see swans being killed,” she said. “They don’t realize there are more than one type of swans.”

Marks tries to educate the public about the benefit of freeing up habitat for the native swan species and removing the aggressive mute swans any time her performs a culling.

Akkerhuis remains skeptical that removing the mute swans will lead to a significantly higher population of the native swan species on Lincoln Lake.

“Trumpeter swans like it quiet. They’re not going to put up with all this skiing and boating,” she said. “They want to be up north where there’s nothing else on the lake.”

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