LAKE JAMES — The conflict between invasive wildlife and native resources and how the invasives are treated by humans perhaps is best illustrated by the mute swan, a wildlife specialist said during the annual meeting of the Steuben County Lakes Council.
Mute swans are both loved and reviled by people around the lakes in northeastern Indiana and beyond, said Carl A. Voglewede of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services.
“If they were as nasty and ugly as an Asian carp, we wouldn’t have any problem,” Voglewede said to the gathering of about two dozen people who met in a socially distanced fashion outdoors around the campfire area of Lake James Christian Camp and Retreat.
It may have been the first annual meeting of the Lakes Council in decades to be held outdoors. It was the 48th annual meeting of the group that works to preserve water quality and natural resources of Steuben County.
The bottom line, Voglewede said, is that mute swans compete with native species and habitat, can be dangerous to humans and need to be controlled.
The reality is, their beauty has made it difficult for some lakeside property owners to come to the realization that swans need to be controlled.
“There’s a lot of people that get upset with the program I offer,” Voglewede said.
He works mainly with lake associations on different programs, including oiling of eggs, nest destruction and lethal removal, upon request. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources will also work with lake associations on removal programs. Permits are required.
Voglewede is currently working with Hamilton Lake on an eradication program, and many local lakes have their own control programs, typically egg oiling. Recently he conducted a swan removal at Chapman Lake near Warsaw. Voglewede said he came in at night and conducted his work in silence — shooting the birds — and the following morning, the 26 swans once on the lake were gone.
Swans have pluses and minuses, Voglewede said. They can consume much vegetation, which might keep shorelines free of weeds. On the other hand, that vegetation might also be habitat for fish and other wildlife. Swans can consume 6-8 pounds of vegetation a day, which eventually ends up being excreted either in the lake or on land.
Swans can also be aggressive birds, particularly when raising their cygnets. They have been known to go after personal watercraft and kayakers. If a lake has a particularly aggressive bird or birds, Voglewede said he can be called on to remove the animal.
Mute swan numbers have grown at a time when native trumpeter swans have started to rebound and resume nesting in Indiana, Voglewede said, even though they are still considered extinct in Indiana.
In 2017 the first nesting pair of trumpeter swans to successfully rear young was at Silver Lake in Steuben County. There are now two nesting pair in the county with another pair in DeKalb County, near Hamilton. The other two known nesting pair in Indiana are in LaPorte and Lake counties.
It is believed the trumpeters have returned to Indiana as an offshoot to reintroduction efforts in Michigan.
The main difference between a trumpeter swan and a mute swan can be seen in their beaks. The trumpeter swan has a black beak and the mute’s is orange.
Earlier this year trumpeter swans were seen migrating through on the second basin of Lake James. They were aggressively chased off by mute swans.
Some lakes may never see trumpeter swans, Voglewede said, because they tend to be shy and stay away from people.
“The reality is some lakes may never get trumpeters on them,” Voglewede said.
Another distinction between the trumpeter and the mute: The trumpeter is a federally protected bird, the mute is not. However, that doesn’t mean people can wantonly destroy mute swans.
“They do have a small shield of protection with the DNR,” Voglewede said.
People wanting more information about the services provided by the USDA may contact Voglewede at Carl.A.Voglewede@aphis.usda.gov. His office phone is 765-494-6229.