Two trumpeter swans, an Ohio endangered species, are dead and everybody's mad.
They were juvenile birds, or cygnets, part of a program to restore the vanished trumpeter to Ohio environs. They were killed recently during a controlled waterfowl hunt at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. Two Elyria men are accused. The uproar has ensued.
Duck hunters are mad because the act makes all waterfowlers - indeed, all hunters, this columnist included - look bad. Especially when the act has to be reported and explained publicly. Hunters who have been safe and responsible, not to mention active and caring conservationists all their lives, suddenly find themselves cast in with the lot of poachers and scofflaws.
Natural resources authorities are mad because they try their best - generally go out of their way - to protect and conserve endangered species, among other wildlife. They don't always succeed. And that seemingly may call into question their ability as managers.
Nonhunters are mad because, well, if that's the way hunters are going to act who needs them anyway? Such acts cause folks with long memories to recall any irresponsible hunting act they ever witnessed. Such acts reinforce notions, however ill-conceived, that all hunters are bad actors.
So it goes. But once the venting is done, where do we go?
Do we start petitioning the chief of the Ohio Division of Wildlife to close hunting for snow geese, for example? The argument could be made that closure will protect the other, much larger white waterfowl, including tundra swans and trumpeter swans, neither of which may be hunted. What, indeed, do we do?
Michael Budzik, chief of the state wildlife division, thinks that illegal acts during hunting, or fishing, need to be publicized and faced foursquare. “It is absolutely incumbent on us (hunters), to be credible...not deceptive,” he asserted.
Sweeping dirt under the carpet, the chief added, never pays off.
On the other hand, he said, “there should be absolutely no reason to close the snow goose season.” He acknowledged that relatively few snow geese migrate through this region. But some do so late in the season and it is an opportunity for goose hunters to pursue them.
Why penalize legitimate, responsible hunters and deprive them of a privilege because of the acts of scofflaws? the chief asked.
He noted that at the controlled waterfowl hunts at Ottawa refuge and the state's adjoining Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, hunters are given special instructions about the presence of swans and they are specifically advised that all swans are protected and not to be shot.
(A trumpeter swan is the largest waterfowl in North America, with a wingspan of 71/2 feet and a weight of 20 to 25 pounds. It is three or four times larger than a snow goose, which may have a wingspan of five feet and weigh eight pounds).
In any case, according to the chief, closing the limited snow-goose season would not prevent an irresponsible or careless individual from shooting at a swan anyway, any time.
“I'm extremely disgusted about what happened up there,” Budzik stated.
“It's a sportsman's responsibility to positively identify what he is shooting at. There is no way to misidentify a trumpeter swan for a snow goose. If you don't know what it is (legal game), you don't shoot it. That's taught (from the start) in hunter safety (courses).”
So, what can be done, really? Sure, anti-hunting extremists gladly would see an end to this tradition. But that is not an option, not among reasonable people, not among people who cherish living in a society where freedoms and privileges are celebrated for all, not hoarded for a select few.
Indeed, with freedoms and privileges, such as hunting, there always are risks of abuse and misjudgments. In the end, we must do what we can.
Individually, we hunters must behave as if our heritage depends on it. Because it does. Afield we must behave better than general social expectations, even if we live in a society that worships and pays millions to pro football players who try to get away with any dirty trick they can before God and country on autumn Sunday afternoons. (OK, not all pros are like that ... but think about it).
We also must not hesitate to turn in scofflaws and poachers - just as the responsible Ottawa refuge duck hunters so rightly did when they cellphoned in the swan shootings.
Even if you don't have a cellphone, call 1-800-POACHER toll-free, anonymously, on the next telephone whenever you see a violation. Wildlife lawmen will investigate your complaint.
Last and not least, you can keep you fingers crossed that this does not happen again. We are being watched.
Steve Pollick is The Blade's outdoor writer. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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