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    Document Summary
    - Report Published -

    House Document No. 11

    Document Title
    Report of the Tundra Swan Study Committee

    Department of Game and Inland Fisheries; Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services; Airlie Swan Research Program

    Enabling Authority
    HJR 586 (Regular Session, 1993)

    Executive Summary
    The Virginia Department of. Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) established a Swan Study Committee in April of 1993 to study issues related to the hunting of tundra swan (cygnus columbianus) in Virginia.

    House Joint Resolution 586 .requested "that the Board of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, in cooperation with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Airlie Swan Research Center, should review its policies regarding the swan hunting season." The resolution identified three specific areas to be addressed including: (1) the viability of the (tundra) swan population, (2) the effect of swans on crops and, (3) the alternatives available to deal with crop damage caused by swans.

    The Swan Study Committee solicited input from state, federal and private conservation agencies and organizations regarding the legal status of tundra swans, the federal framework for hunting seasons for tundra swans, population status data, and impacts on agricultural in Virginia. Scientists and technical advisors presented information to the committee on the various issues associated with the management and hunting of tundra swans in Virginia.

    Based on data provided by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others, the Committee determined that the Eastern Population of tundra swans is a viable population. In addition, the number of tundra swans wintering in Virginia has been approximately 6,000 birds per year and that this represents a relatively stable population of swans in Virginia. The committee further concluded that because of the careful monitoring of the hunt by federal and state agencies, the current harvest rate of three (3) percent in Virginia is not likely to adversely impact the Virginia or the Atlantic Flyway population of tundra swans.

    The Committee considered information provided by the Virginia Farm Bureau, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the U. S. Department of Agriculture and found that swan damage to agricultural interests in Virginia is localized and occurs primarily in areas of swan concentrations. The Committee reviewed non-lethal alternatives for controlling crop damage caused by tundra swans. These control techniques included the use of various balloons, propane cannons, pyrotechnic devices, etc. The committee determined that these alternatives have only limited effectiveness because of the habituation of swans to all harassment techniques. Agricultural and wildlife damage control experts reported that the number of complaints regarding swans has declined since the initiation of the limited swan hunting program in Virginia. Harassment methods appear to be more effective when used in conjunction with swan hunting.

    A swan hunting season in Virginia cannot be justified on the basis of agricultural damage because of the relatively limited and localized nature of the damage. The Committee finds that tundra swans are of great interest to hunters and non-hunters alike and that the central issue with regard to an open hunting season on tundra swans in Virginia is whether or not the benefits of a biologically sound recreational season on swans exceed the costs associated with the possible loss of public support for the agency's wildlife management program as a whole.

    The Swan Study Committee offers the following recommendations:

    Recommendation 1:

    The Committee recommends that additional research be conducted to provide data that will enhance our understanding and management of tundra swans. Research should focus on improving population estimates, obtaining data on population exchange between swans wintering in Virginia and the rest of the Eastern Population of tundra swans especially those in North Carolina and Maryland, determining population survival and productivity, and assessing habitat trends and the impact of swan populations on agriculture and wildlife based tourism in Virginia. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, in cooperation with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, should take the lead in these efforts with collaboration from interested public and private conservation organizations.

    The Committee strongly supports the initiation of a swan neck-collar and leg banding study which has been proposed by the U. s. Fish and Wildlife Service and approved by the Atlantic Flyway Council. The committee urges the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to aggressively pursue support for this proposed swan research by written communication to the Director of the USFWS and other measures as appropriate.

    Recommendation 2:

    The Committee recognizes that agricultural and shellfish damage caused by swans does occur in Virginia, and that the effect of harassment methods used to alleviate swan damage is limited because swans become habituated to these techniques. The Committee concluded, however, that while the hunting of swans may increase the effectiveness of harassment methods, the agricultural damage caused by swans in Virginia is localized in areas of swan concentrations, and recommends that the tundra swan hunting season not be justified on agricultural damage.

    Recommendation 3:

    The Committee identified the need for greater public understanding of swan management in Virginia and recommends that the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and cooperators take immediate action on the following:

    1. Provide for non-hunting activities involving tundra swans as a part of wetland conservation programs through the establishment swan-related education programs and public viewing areas as has been done with great success in Britain and Japan.

    2. Educate the public on the history, biology, and management of the various species of swans in Virginia.

    3. The committee recommends that VDGIF consider recovering the administrative costs associated with swan management by charging its beneficiaries an application fee as authorized by Virginia Code 29.1-417, -418, -422, and -743.

    Preliminary findings of this committee were shared with the Board of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries at the August 28 public hearing in Virginia Beach. Since waterfowl seasons are established annually at the August Board meeting, this was the only opportunity for the work of the committee to be shared so that the department could take recommendations under advisement as they considered the Tundra Swan season. The Board of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries took action to reduce the swan hunting season from 90 to 60 days and also reduced the number of permits to be issued from 600 to 400.