Washington’s mute swans have finally found someone to speak for them.
State Rep. Larry Seaquist and state Sen. Derek Kilmer, both Democrats from Gig Harbor, are looking to ease restrictions on trafficking the birds so that a Gig Harbor homeowner’s association can buy one for a private lake.
State wildlife officials have banned the sale and ownership of mute swans since 1991, deeming them deleterious exotic wildlife that can destroy wetlands and occasionally attack people and other animals.
That’s nonsense, say homeowners in Gig Harbor’s Sylvia Lake community, who have kept a pair of mute swans on their lake for more than 20 years to ward off Canadian geese.
The residents have spent two years trying replace one of the swans, which died in December 2007.
State officials allowed the homeowners to keep the old swans because they were brought in before 1991, but replacing one is out of the question without a change in law.
“This is our last resort,” said Bill Higday, secretary of the Sylvia Lake homeowners association, which represents about 80 property owners. “Our efforts to sit down and talk with fish and wildlife officials have been totally unsuccessful.”
Sylvia Lake homeowners fear that the remaining swan will soon die and the Canadian geese will return to the lake, said Sarah Polyakov, who has lived in the Sylvia Lake community for 3-1/2 years. The geese pollute the lake with their droppings and also scare children, she said.
“We really just don’t want our pristine property ruined,” Polyakov said. “They make a mess and are very aggressive.”
Conversely, the lake’s remaining mute swan – a male named Prince – is far from dangerous, Polyakov said.
She said she befriended the swan after its mate, Princess, died in 2007, and feeds him and sings to him regularly.
“He actually closes his eyes and bows his head and he looks like he’s meditating,” Polyakov said. “He’s very docile.”
Fish and wildlife officials think differently.
“They cause a real problem for wetlands and native wildlife,” said Don Kraege, waterfowl section manager with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife “They can eat up to eight pounds of vegetation a day, and they’ve even been known to attack people.”
The legislative bills, Senate Bill 6255 and House Bill 2476, would allow up to two mute swans to exist on private lakes under 20 acres in size, as long as the birds are sexually altered and pinioned.
Kilmer, the sponsor of the Senate bill, said he thinks that allowing mute swans in places like Sylvia Lake could cut down on aquatic pollution that homeowners or state officials would later have to fix.
“We spend a substantial amount of money trying to clean up lakes that have contamination issues,” Kilmer said. “This seemed a reasonable way to save some dough in the long run.”
Wildlife officials say mute swans are not native to North America and are intensely territorial.
In Maryland last year, an advisory task force on mute swans recommended that the state Department of Natural Resources continue killing mute swans to protect native vegetation and wildlife.
Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife recommends that people deter Canadian geese using barriers, lawn management and a variety of scare tactics – not using mute swans.
Higday, the secretary of the Sylvia Lake homeowners association, said that aside from fixing the geese problem, the mute swans increase the aesthetic value of the community.
“When I bought my home here, I looked at the lake, then I looked at the swans, then I looked at the house – in that order,” Higday said. “It’s hard to believe how pretty they are.”