Two Elyria men have been charged in connection with killing two state-endangered trumpeter swans Friday during a controlled waterfowl hunt in which they were participating at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.
The swans, both juvenile birds or cygnets, were raised this year at a nest on the adjacent Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area. They were wearing green identification collars on their necks, said Denis Franklin, manager at Magee.
The birds were part of a family group of two adults and three cygnets. A fourth cygnet in the group was killed just Thursday when it flew into a power line, said Dave Sherman, a Magee biologist who heads up a trumpeter-swan restoration program.
Frederick C. Triplett, 33, was charged by state wildlife officer John Waltos with taking a nongame bird, a trumpeter swan. His hunting partner, Jeffery L. Shawver, 41, was charged with attempting to take a nongame bird, a trumpeter swan. Both charges are first-degree misdemeanors punishable on conviction with a fine of up to $1,000 and six months jail. The men are to appear in Ottawa County Municipal Court.
Terry Sunderhaus, law enforcement supervisor for Ohio Wildlife District 2, said that the wildlife division also intends to seek restitution of $1,000 for each bird. He said that revocation of hunting privileges for the Ohio men would be up to the judge.
The wildlife lawman gave this account: About 9 a.m. Friday the men, hunting from their blind at Ottawa refuge, said they heard shots and, on turning toward the sound, thought that a flock of geese was headed their way. Triplett fired and a bird fell. Shawver fired and a bird was crippled.
After the men fired, they said they heard the remaining birds trumpeting and said they realized their mistake. Investigating authorities found one bird dead and the other injured. The injured bird was taken to a wildlife rehabilitation center but had to be euthanized.
Hunters in another blind nearby apparently witnessed the shooting of the swans and alerted Magee authorities by cellular telephone, wildlife authorities said.
“It's not good,” Sunderhaus said. “These birds are huge. These are jumbo jets flying through the air.''
It is not a case, however occasional, of a duck hunter confusing, say, a teal with a wood duck at sunrise, the lawman added.
“The vast, vast majority of hunters, especially waterfowlers, are dedicated to their sport and spend a lot of time and money on equipment,'' he said. “They don't make mistakes like this, especially with birds the size of a small jet.”
A year ago, four Toledo-area men were found guilty in the shooting of three trumpeters in Lucas and Ottawa counties during the waterfowl hunting season. They received stiff fines and suspended jail sentences, were ordered to make restitution, and lost hunting privileges, among other penalties.
“I was pretty deflated over the weekend - this is pretty hard to swallow,” said Magee's Franklin. He noted how hard the Magee staff has worked on the trumpeter swan program, which began in 1996, and how hard the staff works to assure safe, responsible hunts at Magee and adjoining Ottawa.
Franklin said that before going to their blinds, all hunters drawn for the special hunts at Magee and Ottawa are given briefings about the presence of the swans in the region. Hunters are shown diagrams and descriptions of the birds and warned that they are strictly protected and not to shoot at them.
Only limited, or controlled waterfowl hunting is allowed by drawing at Magee and Ottawa during only a portion of the general waterfowl seasons
The trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl in North America. They are white, have 7 to 71/2 –foot wingspans, and weigh 20 to 25 pounds each. By comparison, a snow goose, only a few of which rarely migrate through this region, weighs only about eight pounds with a wingspan of just five feet. A snow goose, while white, has black wingtips and in mass is three to four times smaller than a trumpeter.
“I don't think it's mistaken identity - the difference in size is that great,” contended Tim Plageman, wildlife management supervisor for Wildlife District 2. “Basically there are no snow geese in the area.”
The shootings, the supervisor added, “are beyond me.”
In addition to the pre-hunt briefings, the wildlife division has been careful to stress swan identification and protection in its waterfowl season informational previews. The swan program also has been discussed extensively in the media, including this column as recently as Oct. 19.
Magee's Sherman noted that this was a banner year for the swan program, with 19 cygnets raised in the wild around the state, 12 of them at Magee. The losses will not cripple the swan program, though some of this year's cygnets already had been lost to such predators as turtles and other natural causes.
The biologist said that on average about half of the young swans are lost in the first year. Until they grow adult plumage, cygnets are off-white to sooty gray in color.
A total of 118 of the big swans have been released in Ohio in five years. In addition to the Magee-Ottawa area, trumpeters also have been released or are established at Killbuck Marsh State Wildlife Area in Wayne County, on private wetlands in Ashland and Muskingum counties, and at Pickerel Creek State Wildlife Area on Sandusky Bay.
The state's goal is to establish 15 breeding pairs of trumpeters. Once native here, the swans disappeared by 1900 in Ohio because of wetlands losses and unregulated hunting for meat and plumage.
The initial releases of swans have been accomplished via a cooperative program involving Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Ducks Unlimited, and the International Center for the Preservation of Wild Animals (The Wilds) in southeast Ohio.
Tonight - Motivational lecture about hiking the Appalachian Trail, 7:30 to 9:30, Lourdes College Campus, 6832 Convent Blvd., Sylvania, Rosary Care Center, Evergreen Room; lecture by backpacker Ken Jackson, camping specialist, General Surplus Store, Dayton; sponsored by Science Alliance for Valuing the Environment; call 824-3691.
Tonight - Election-night hike, 6, Wildwood Preserve Metropark, Visitor Center; also, Friday, star watch, 7 to 9 p.m., Oak Openings Preserve Metropark, Girdham and Reed roads, weather permitting.
Tomorrow - North Branch Boys Fly Fishing Club, Toledo Sailing Club at Walbridge Park, dinner and social hour 6:30 p.m., program 7:30 p.m. by Glenn Blackwood, of Great Lake Fly Fishing; call Eric Gunderson, 535-1600.
Thursday - Wood/Lucas Chapter, Pheasants Forever, meeting canceled - gone hunting.
Thursday - Trapshoot, 6 p.m., Sandusky County Sportsmen's Club, State Rt. 600 east of Gibsonburg.
Friday - Naturalists' Camera Club of Toledo, 7:30 p.m., Secor Metropark Discovery center, Central Avenue entrance; call Adele Shelton, 474-2911.
Steve Pollick is The Blade's outdoor writer. E-mail him at email@example.com.