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Alpena plans to address swan, geese populations

News File Photo Mute swans paddle in the Thunder Bay River backwaters in this News file photo.

ALPENA — The Alpena Municipal Council could vote on population management plans for mute swans and Canadian Geese at its meeting tonight.

If the proposed plans are approved, a variety of techniques will be used to control the water fowl population, including hunting them or euthanization.

In a report to the council, City Manager Rachel Smolinski will seek approval to amp up population reduction measures for the mute swan, which is an invasive species, which damages the environment around it. The mute swan also bullies other waterfowl out of the habitat they share. The population of trumpeter swans, which are native to the Alpena area, are already well below that of the mute swan.

“Mute swans are one of the world’s most aggressive waterfowl species, especially while nesting and raising their young,” Smolinski said in her report. “Mute swans drive out native waterfowl and other wetland wildlife with their hostile behavior. Mute swans will chase native breeding birds from their nests. A single mute swan can consume four to eight pounds of plants a day. They uproot and destroy these wetland plants that are a main food source for native birds and cover for native fish and invertebrates. Continuous feeding by a flock of mute swans can destroy an entire wetland ecosystem.”

In 2021, the city began working with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources via the Mute Swan Management and Control Program, which is administered by the USDA Wildlife Services, to help reduce the number of mute swans in Alpena. The state has destroyed swan nests and eggs to help limit population increases, but Smolinski said those techniques, although effective, aren’t enough to help limit the population of mute swans to where they need to be and allow the trumpeter swans to thrive.

To do this, the state recommends removing the mute swans from its habitat, According to the Mute Swan Management and Control Program Policy and Procedures, that means to shoot or euthanize them.

Smolinski said any action taken by the USDA must be approved by her and the city can opt out of the program at any point.

“Although the egg and nest destruction program is showing progress, we have a lot of work to do to reestablish a thriving population of the trumpeter swan within the Wildlife Sanctuary,” Smolinski said in her report. “The USDA has recommended that we supplement the egg and nest destruction program with removal of adult mute swans within the Wildlife Sanctuary when appropriate. Removal operations would be conducted by USDA Wildlife Services in coordination with me and the USDA will not conduct any operations without my consent, so there will be no unplanned activities. In addition, the City can terminate the permit/participation in the program at any time.”

In 2021, Smolinski said, the USDA located a total of 13 mute swan nests containing a total of 77 eggs. All nests were treated with corn oil to prevent the eggs from hatching. They observed a total of 30 mute swans and two trumpeter swans. The trumpeter swans appeared to be a breeding pair, but they did not have a nest due to the high population of mute swans outcompeting them for high quality nesting areas.

In May 2022, another collection occurred, and the USDA observed 22 mute swans, 11 breeding pairs, and treated 11 nests containing a total of 64 eggs.

In addition, it observed one breeding pair of trumpeter swans and they were later confirmed by the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary Board that the breeding pair of trumpeter swans nested within the Wildlife Sanctuary and produced six cygnets. In addition to the trumpeter swans, the Sanctuary Board has noted an increase in biodiversity including sightings of egrets, sandhill cranes, and various other waterfowl species.

Smolinski said the nest and egg programs will also continue too.

“Although the egg and nest destruction program are showing progress, we have a lot of work to do,” she said.

According to the DNR, a mute swan adult has orange bills and a black knob on the top of their bill. They also have a “S” curve of the neck, while the trumpeter swans have a “C” curve and black bill.

The DNR says the large birds show little fear of people and each year the DNR receives reports of mute swan attacks on people in boats and on shore.

Council is also expected to vote on a goose hunt in the city to help control the goose population. Geese in Alpena create messes in green spaces in the area with their feces and can be aggressive toward people.

Smolinski said so far, harassment techniques like decoys, cracker shells, dogs, and repellents have been utilized, and exclusion techniques, like fences and vegetative barriers, have also been tried. She said the techniques must be implemented consistently to be successful and that isn’t always feasible because of the city’s limited resources.

Smolinski said the DNR recommends general hunting as one of its recommendations and for now, in her opinion, the goose hunts should continue until the newly formed Goose Management Committee comes up with alternative and effective plans.

“As fall approaches, the local goose population, estimated at 150-180, will be joined by early migrating geese from the surrounding area,” Smolinski said. “The success in reducing our local goose population lies in the reduction of the local nesting goose population. The GMC will continue to evaluate and implement various management strategies; however, it is my opinion that we will need to continue with the annual goose hunt until other strategies have proven successful.”

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