Portage Lakes residents may have noticed something missing lately.
With winter's arrival, the lakes see fewer boats, a quieter bar scene and far fewer mute swans.
Save Our Swans On Portage Lakes, a group of locals who have been meticulously tracking the number of swans on the Portage Lakes, has been taking action against a recent Ohio Department of Natural Resources program that, according to the group, is eliminating the area's mute swan population.
Allegonda Grob, a West Reservoir resident who has been observing the swan population for more than a decade, began the group after she noticed a steady decline in the number of swans on the lake. Grob said that in the past three or four years, 39 mute swans have been killed, with nine executions occurring in 2013.
"In 2004, the regulation of migratory birds went from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Natural Resources," Grob said. "There was a bill passed in 2010 that allowed elimination all non-native birds to North America and the mute swan was one of them, since they supposedly originated in Europe."
Geoff Westerfield, assistant wildlife management supervisor at the ODNR, confirmed that nearly 40 swans have been eradicated in the area in the past few years. He said that the department uses a variety of tactics to kill the birds, from shooting adult birds to addling eggs so the birds are unable to perpetuate. The numbers of swans on the Portage Lakes, according to Westerfield, has been growing rapidly in the past decade.
Westerfield said the department is working to create a more hospitable environment for native species, such as the North American trumpeter swan and has received a string of complains regarding mute swan aggression on the Portage Lakes.
"In the state, we have an invasive species policy that basically states that we'll do what we can on our land and encourage people on private properties to manage invasive species that are there," Westerfield said. "So, in this case, mute swans on the state lakes are following our policy on managing invasive species."
Westerfield also said the department has had to field dozens of calls regarding swans acting aggressively toward people enjoying water recreation.
"We were getting called by people who were on JetSkis, people on canoes and the birds attacking the canoes, and those are obviously bad situations," Westerfield said. "Nobody wants anybody to get hurt."
But Grob said she and her committee are concerned about whether replacing mute swans with trumpeter swans, who typically nest in marsh lands rather than ponds or lakes, would solve the issues.
"(Mute swans) are no more aggressive, from my perspective, than a trumpeter swan would be," Grob said.
Still, Westerfield said the department has no intention of introducing the native trumpeter swans to the area.
Page 2 of 2 - "In Portage Lakes, we don't have trumpeter swans nesting," Westerfield said, "but our hope is that we will have them on the lakes and kind of promote a home for them and get things ready for them."
Grob and about five other committee members have been writing congresspeople, speaking at township meetings and encouraging the locals to get involved.
"We understand that you can't have 100 swans on the lake," Grob said. "We understand that numbers need to be controlled. Our belief is that addling the eggs should be sufficient to control the numbers, and that killing adult swans is wrong. We truly believe it's a total euthanasia program."
Westerfield said population control just isn't enough.
"From a state standpoint, if we did nothing on the Portage Lakes, that would not be a responsible manager — to let an animal breed that's just going to move on and cause problems and issues somewhere else," Westerfield said. "You can't always make everybody happy, but our job is to manage wildlife and that's what we're charged with in the State of Ohio, so we're doing what we think is in the best interest of wildlife as a whole, as well as the people."
For more information on the eradication of mute swans from the Save Our Swans On Portage Lakes' perspective visit http://lenkky.wix.com/swan. For more from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources visit www2.ohiodnr.gov