Michigan’s invasive species generally earn the moniker: They’re “invaders” that quickly spread to uncontrollable numbers, killing native species and refusing to give up their hold on their acquired land.
Michigan Mute swans don’t quite fit the invader model. In fact, many people would probably be surprised to learn the birds are invasive. They have been a part of Michigan since as far back as most people can remember.
The population of mute swans in Michigan was estimated to be about 15,500 in 2010, a dramatic increase of about 10,000 in 10 years. Although the swans aren’t a visible threat to native species, they compete for nesting areas with trumpeter swans and loons, both iconic and threatened native species in Michigan.
The swans were originally from Europe or Asia and brought to the U.S. as a decorative species in the late 1800s and eventually made their way to Michigan. The mute swan is an aggressive species and has few predators. Due to already low Trumpeter Swan numbers, the mute swan is able to outcompete the native species and thrive.
The Department of Natural Resources has been attempting to manage the number of mute swans for many years. The Michigan Natural Resources Commission recently voted to ban rehabilitation and release of injured mute swans as way to control their numbers. Institutions will be mandated to either euthanize or keep the swans in their custody. The mandate was passed in hopes to allow native species an opportunity to regain numbers and to cull the growing number of a species that was being reported as a nuisance in many occasions.
The decision has sparked controversy. There are many individuals who are not willing to let injured swans die under their watch. State and local organizations are leery of euthanizing the animals for fear of public backlash and are unable to keep the animals under their custody. The result is many swans dying in the wild.
The case is an example of the complexity that can be involved in species management. The decision made by the Natural Resource Commission was made with the betterment of local ecosystems in mind, but does not fall in line with the beliefs of many animal rights advocates and Michigan bird lovers.