Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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Tribal swan season set to open; will include up to 10 trumpeters

Madison — The state’s six Chippewa tribes will be hunting tundra and trumpeter swans beginning Nov. 1, thanks to a new season approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This will be the first time that tribal members will be allowed to legally pursue tundra and trumpeter swans off-reservation and in the ceded territory.

All swans are to be registered, and there is a season limit of 10 trumpeter swans for hunters in all six tribes, according to a notice on the home page of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission website. That notice also states that tribal hunters will have a daily bag limit – and season possession limit – of two swans.

The season framework calls for tribal hunters to present their swans to a tribal registration station or a GLIFWC warden.

“Fully feathered” swans must be registered within 48 hours of harvest, according to the website. That’s when the swan species will be identified.

The season will end Dec. 31, or when 10 trumpeters have been shot, according to the GLIFWC statement. The tribal agency is asking its hunters to monitor its website, where trumpeter totals and season status will be tracked.

“These two species (tundras and trumpeters) can be difficult to tell apart in the field,” the GLIFWC statement says. “While either species can be harvested, the season is designed to place harvest emphasis on migrant tundra swans, which are much more plentiful than the locally nesting trumpeter swans. As such, the swan season will not begin until Nov. 1, after migrant tundra swans have typically arrived in the area in appreciable numbers.”

According to the Wisconsin DNR, trumpeter swans disappeared from the state in the late 1880s. The birds were re-introduced in 1989. That effort worked well, and trumpeters were removed from the state endangered species list in 2009.

Peter David, of Odanah, has been a longtime wildlife biologist for GLIFWC, and is familiar with the trumpeter recovery project.

“The tribes welcomed the recovery of trumpeter swans to Wisconsin, and at least one tribe was actively involved in the recovery effort,” David said. “The recovery has been very successful. The state population is currently about 10 times over the original recovery goal of 20 pairs, is growing at about 6 percent a year, and numbers between 1,000 to 1,500 animals. 

“Nevertheless, the tribal season has two factors built into it to assure a minimal impact on the trumpeter population. The season doesn’t open until Nov. 1, after migrant tundra swans have typically arrived in the state in appreciable numbers, and all swans harvested must be registered and identified to species. If 10 trumpeters are harvested, the entire season will be closed. 

“Personally, I would be very surprised if that will be necessary,” David said.

In some corners of the non-Indian hunting community, there is far less concern about hunting tundra swans than there is trumpeter swans.

“I do not have great concern about the hunting of tundra swans, but the DNR should also be working to make that hunt available for non-tribal hunters,” said George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

Tundra swans are widely abundant and are hunted in western states.

“I do have concerns about them opening the tribal hunt up for trumpeter swans, which have just been restored with hundreds of thousands of dollars of state and nonprofit dollars,” Meyer said. “Tribal members need to distinguish between the two birds when they are hunting. We all have to do it in other types of hunting.

“My other major concern is where is the transparency of DNR in this,” he said. “These types of negotiations need to be done in a more public fashion. These negotiations were paid for by Wisconsin taxpayers and sports license dollars, and the birds in question are owned in trust by the state with DNR as the trustee. There should be a high level of transparency when these negotiations take place and what the results were. The DNR does wildlife press releases at a drop of the hat on other issues, but not in this case.”

Kurt Thiede, the DNR’s Division of Lands administrator, talked about the origination of the tribal swan season.

“The approval of migratory game bird hunting for tribes is different than other game species because migratory birds are under the authority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – the federal government,” he said. “Each year the USFWS requests tribal migratory bird-hunting season proposals and rejects or approves these seasons in a parallel, but separate, process used for approving state migratory bird-hunting seasons. As a state, we are provided copies of their proposals and are in a position to comment on them. 

“Specific to swan hunting, GLIFWC has been requesting a swan hunting season for at least three to four years from the USFWS. Each year, the Mississippi Flyway Council and the state of Wisconsin had commented on these requests, expressing concerns or suggestions. This year, as in the past, the MFC commented on this and other tribal proposals. The recommendation from the MFC was for the USFWS to not approve the tribal swan season,” Thiede said.

“In concept, we do not oppose a hunting season on swans. We request that the tribal proposal follow the Management Plan for the Eastern Population of Tundra Swans (Caswell et al. 2007) and that additional biological evaluation and harvest planning be conducted in cooperation with the state wildlife agencies and the USFWS. The USFWS made similar requests in the Sept. 5, 2012, Federal Register,” he said. “The USFWS decided in 2014 that the tribes had sufficiently accommodated the concerns we had expressed over the past several years, that there were sufficient controls to minimize impact to trumpeter swan populations and that the overall harvest would be relatively small. Hence the season was approved.”

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