Troopers look for leads in trumpeter swan shooting

Posted: Thursday, June 08, 2006

Alaska State Troopers are investigating the shooting death of a male trumpeter swan that had been nesting in a pond next to the Haines Highway, about 11 miles northwest of Haines.

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The shooting outraged many Haines-area residents.

"It was exciting to see these swans on our trips. When I reach 11 mile, I will be bitter with anger," Chilkat River Valley resident Carrie Bauer said.

Shooting a trumpeter swan - the largest waterfowl in the world - is a misdemeanor under state and federal law and punishable by a fine and jail time. The bird is listed as a protected species under the International Migratory Bird Treaty.

The swan case most likely will be handed over to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for further investigation and prosecution, state officials said.

Residents who travel regularly through the Chilkat River Valley said Wednesday they were crushed after having watched the swans court, mate and build their nest earlier this year.

"We were blessed with a pair of swans that anybody on the Haines Highway could look at," said Dave Olerud, executive director of the town's American Bald Eagle Foundation.

The pair - one of more than 150 trumpeter swans that migrate to the Chilkat River Valley each spring - built the nest in a pond within roughly 100 feet of the highway.

Buses filled with tourists would stop at the pond to take a look at them, residents said Wednesday.

"I try not to get angry but it does not make sense," Olerud said.

Though state troopers said they had not made arrests Wednesday, rumors continue to fly in Haines about possible arrests in the case.

A Haines resident - one of several who called authorities last Thursday morning - said he spotted the dead male swan floating in the pond at about 6 a.m. last Thursday.

The resident, who did not want to be identified but had watched the swans for months, said at the time he didn't realize that the male swan had been shot.

"We're still trying to put together when it was killed, and who might have killed it," said Juneau-based trooper Sgt. Steve Hall.

Hall declined to say whether troopers had identified suspects, but said they are looking for additional leads in the case.

As of Wednesday morning, the female swan was still sitting on the nest, Haines residents said.

"That's good ... . She's probably getting real close to hatching them," said Ryan Scott, assistant area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Many in Haines have associated the swan shooting with another random shooting that occurred along the Haines Highway early last Thursday morning. Hall said that for now, he believes the two incidents are unrelated.

In the other incident, a pair of young men allegedly shot at a telephone pedestal along the Haines Highway, cutting off phone and Internet access to the U.S. and Canadian customs offices.

The trooper sergeant assigned to that case was unavailable for comment Wednesday and troopers could not confirm whether arrests had been made, as many Haines residents asserted this week.

In a 1990 count, roughly 13,000 trumpeter swans were found in Alaska, representing 80 percent of the world's population.

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, trumpeter swans mate for life. If one swan is lost, though, its partner may find a new mate by the next breeding season.

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