Utah swan population is soaring to new heights this year
The fall migration of tundra swans through Utah is well underway, making it a great time for the 2,000 hunters with swan hunting permits to visit the marshes where they're staging.
An aerial survey conducted by the Division of Wildlife Resources the morning of Nov. 5 found 32,301 swans on the Great Salt Lake's eastern marshes.
"That number may represent the peak of the migration this year," explained Tom Aldrich, waterfowl coordinator for the DWR.
"Cold weather during the last week has accelerated the migration this year. Normally we don't see this many swans until mid to late November."
Most of the swans were spotted on the private Bear River Hunting Club west of Brigham City.
The Nov. 5 morning survey found 23,719 swans on the club.
A total of 5,950 swans were also spotted on Unit 1 of the public Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.
"Unit 1 is not open to hunting but swans from the unit may fly over units 2, 1A, 3A and 3B, which are open to hunting," Aldrich said.
"A few swans are also flying between the Bear River Refuge and the Harold Crane Waterfowl management area, and a few swans have been taken at Harold Crane in the early morning and late afternoon."
Utah swan hunters are reminded about requirements designed to help the DWR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service obtain as accurate a count as possible of the number of trumpeter swans that hunters might accidently take this season.
Within 72 hours of taking a swan, hunters must have the bird examined and measured at a DWR office.
Also, everyone who drew a 2002 swan permit must return their harvest questionnaire within 10 days of the close of the season, even if they don't hunt or take a swan.
People who fail to do these things won't be allowed to obtain a Utah swan permit in 2003.
"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to make sure that all of the trumpeter swans that hunters might accidently take are counted," Aldrich explained.
"We think the number of trumpeters taken by Utah hunters each year is very low. This monitoring program will help us know for sure."
Aldrich also reminds hunters that the USFWS is defending a law suit in federal court that seeks to discontinue swan hunting.
"Hunters need to be aware that the court decision could occur anytime this fall, and there is some potential that swan hunting could be closed entirely when that decision is reached," he said.
"There's also a chance that the court may rule that tundra swan hunting can continue, but that the legalized, accidental taking of trumpeter swans won't be allowed any more," he continued.
"If that happens, we would be required by law to issue citations to hunters who accidently take trumpeters."
The DWR provides the following hunting tips to swan hunters across the state.
With the fall migration in full swing, now is a great time for the 2,000 hunters with swan permits to visit the marshes.
For increased success, Aldrich advises swan hunters to spend time watching the birds and learning their patterns.
Tundra swans are very consistent in the times of day they fly and the routes they take. Hunters who learn these patterns will have the most success.
Swan activity also increases during the first ice-up, as swans search for new open water areas.
Factors that can change a swan's pattern include hunting pressure, weather changes and food availability.
Hunters are reminded that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has closed all areas north of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and north of Forest Street (the road leading from Brigham City to the refuge) to tundra swan hunting for at least one more year.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is restricting tundra swan hunting to try and help less abundant trumpeter swans increase their range into Utah by reducing the incidental take of trumpeters during the swan season.
Utah's swan hunting season runs through Dec. 8.