A struggling population of rare trumpeter swans may be the unintended victims of an ongoing tundra swan hunt in Utah. That's the word from some anonymous Fish and Wildlife Service biologists, who say their agency has ignored science and bowed to political pressure from Utah wildlife officials.
Federal biologists have worked for years to increase and disperse the so-called tri-state population of trumpeters, a group of about 400 swans in the greater Yellowstone area. In 1992, the Fish and Wildlife Service transplanted a small number of trumpeters from Yellowstone to the national Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah.
But the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources sells about 2,000 tundra swan hunting permits every year. Because tundra swans and trumpeter swans are hard to distinguish at a distance, the state agency worried that tundra swan hunters could be penalized for accidentally shooting trumpeters. In 1995, Fish and Wildlife Service officials discontinued the trumpeter transplants and approved a five-year experimental tundra swan hunt in Utah - one that allowed the taking of up to 10 trumpeter swans each year.
This year, when federal officials extended the experimental hunt in Utah for two years, a group of Fish and Wildlife Service biologists spoke out. In August, with the help of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the group published a report, Swan Dive, on the controversy.
The report accuses the agency of releasing a "heavily flawed" assessment of the hunt's impacts, and it claims that the latest hunt approval is simply a precursor to a permanent "takings" provision in the tundra swan hunt.
Bob Trost with the Fish and Wildlife Service's Office of Migratory Bird Management in Portland, Ore., takes issue with the PEER report. Though he declines to comment on specifics, he says: "This is a very complex issue, but we've made every effort to analyze it correctly."
Several environmental groups have challenged the Utah hunt's approval in district court.
Copyright © 2001 HCN and Tim Wagner