Mute swans in Racine, Kenosha and Waukesha counties have a chance at a reprieve from Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources efforts to eradicate the non-native birds.
The state's Natural Resources Board approved a plan this week allowing residents in those counties to adopt a mute swan this year. Residents would need to purchase a permit, humanely capture the swan and take it to a veterinarian for neutering and tagging.
Mute swan eradication efforts would resume throughout Racine County in 2008, but swans with the tags would not be included. Mute swans can live about 20 years.
Five years ago, the DNR suspended mute swan eradication efforts in parts of Racine County after residents objected. DNR staff studied the issue and recently recommended resuming eradication, but with the adoption-style program.
"As a natural resources agency, we have the obligation to uphold what is our share of what is a national mute swan control policy, but we also recognize that this is not just a biological issue and people have formed emotional attachments to those swans, and this also gives them an option as well," said DNR spokesperson Erin Celello.
Wisconsin's efforts to eradicate mute swans aren't unique. Many Midwestern and Eastern Seaboard states have adopted similar policies, identifying mute swans as an invasive species that's forcing out native birds and uprooting aquatic vegetation.
In Wisconsin, the mute swans compete for the same habitat as the native trumpeter swan. But it's more than a mute swan-trumpeter swan issue, Celello said.
"Mute swans also tend to drive out other native waterfowl, such as ducks, geese and loons," Celello said. "They are an invasive species."
By doing nothing, the DNR would be putting the good of the mute swan ahead of the good of many other species, Celello said.
In the past 10 years, the DNR's eradication policy has reduced the adult population from 340 to 141 mute swans, Celello said. Approximately 85 percent of the mute swans in the state can be found in southeastern Wisconsin.
State Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, who attended this week's Natural Resources Board meeting, thanked the DNR for taking people's concerns in account in making a decision.
"While this is not everything that we had hoped for," Vos said in a news release, "this does still allow for the mute swan to reside in our area so that those that have grown fond of the swans will still be able to enjoy them for years to come."
Jean Jacobson is one such resident who enjoys swans on Waubeesee Lake in the Town of Norway, where her parents own lakefront property.
Year after year, the same swans return to the lake, proudly showing off their cygnets, as the offspring are called, Jacobson said.
"They're part of the ambience, part of the culture out here," Jacobson said. She spoke at this week's Natural Resources Board meeting, expressing opposition to eradication efforts.
"I personally don't like Wisconsin to be known as a state that kills mourning doves and swans," Jacobson said.
"They have never caused a problem on those lakes I have been acquainted with," she said.
The DNR would be better served dealing with zebra mussels and Asian carp, she said.
While mute swans aren't native species, neither are horses and cattle - even the apples found in stores aren't native to North America, Jacobson said.
As for the adoption program, Jacobson has her doubts that it's anything but a token effort.
"To catch a swan would not be an easy job in the first place," she said. "They're very defensive. They're wild animals."
Their capture would put them through a traumatic experience, she said. Only a few veterinarians in the state may attempt to sterilize them. Additionally, the DNR warned that some swans may not survive the ordeal.
"Many of us are giving this some thought, but it's a very traumatic thought," Jacobson said.
While some details of the adoption program were still being finalized, the DNR plans to require residents to express interest in adopting a mute swan by June 1, 2007. Permits will be issued after that time.