By Susan Patla, Wyoming Game and Fish Department Nongame Biologist
Trumpeter swans, the largest waterfowl in North America, have long been valued for their grace and beauty. More recently the resident population in the Intermountain West has proven to be an excellent catalyst for wetland restoration and conservation work. In the early 1900s, fewer than 70 swans persisted year-round in the lower 48 states. Although numbers increased during the last century, growth stalled in the 1960s given the extremely limited summer and winter range of this population. Translocations of both wild and captive-raised swans have been used to expand the distribution of swans in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Oregon since the late 1980s.
The Wyoming Wetlands Society provided 75 captive raised swans to Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) biologists, which were released in the Green River drainage from 1994-2002. Over the past 15 years, a new breeding flock was established and continues to show strong growth. The total number of swans as well as the number of nesting pairs has more than doubled in the state. The WGFD began to focus management efforts on wetland conservation projects in 2004 that could provide additional shallow-water wetland habitat for this expanding population. Given their size and habitat requirements, swans serve well as an umbrella species to create habitat that serves a large number of other wetland associated wildlife species.
Using swans as the focal species, WGFD’s Nongame Trumpeter Swan Green River Expansion Project has raised more than two million dollars in grants for wetland restoration, creation and conservation. Over 60 acres of wetland ponds have been constructed on five different ranches in partnership with landowners and a variety of state and federal agencies as well as non-governmental organizations. Just this spring, new nesting pairs have become established at three project sites. Non-breeding pairs and sub-adults have used the other constructed ponds including those just recently completed.
Major funding for this work has been obtained through the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative and the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust. In addition, WGFD partnered with The Conservation Fund to obtain a standard North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant for the Green River project area in 2012. This grant helped complete easements and additional wetland and riparian restoration projects. Other partners in swan conservation have included the Intermountain West Joint Venture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. An additional bonus has been a partnership between WGFD and The Nature Conservancy to obtain Environmental Protection Agency grants for basin-wide wetland assessments for the Green River and other basins in Wyoming.
Landowners are proud to create wetlands that enhance their land and provide for nesting pairs of swans. Although it takes three to five years for sufficient wetland vegetation to develop that will support a nesting pair, patience pays off. A diversity of waterfowl, waterbirds and mammals use these new wetlands as well as sage grouse broods, hunting raptors, and migrating landbirds. Given that shallow water wetlands are one of the rarest habitats in the Intermountain West, the value of these projects goes far beyond swans. But swans are the stimulus that helps bring these projects to life.
Intermountain West Joint Venture 1001 S. Higgins Avenue, Suite A1 Missoula, MT 59801