Groups File Suit to Stop Swan Hunt.

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Groups File Suit to Stop Swan Hunt.

Thursday, October 4, 2001

BY TOM WHARTON, THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

   Animal protection organizations and conservation groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Washington, D.C., to stop swan hunting in the West, including northern Utah.

   The suit could affect the 2,000 Utah hunters who hold permits to hunt tundra swans Saturday when the state's waterfowl season opens. Tundra and the rarer trumpeter swans are almost impossible to tell apart on the fly.

   While tundra swans are plentiful, biologists are concerned about trumpeters, concentrated in and around Yellowstone National Park. There are about 70 breeding pairs of trumpeters native to that area that are being impacted by other swans migrating from farther north for the winter. Many biologists and The Trumpeter Swan Society want Utah's Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge to be part of a plan to expand trumpeter habitat.

   The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved the legal taking of 10 trumpeter swans in Utah in conjunction with the tundra hunt. The agency has worked with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge on checking all successful tundra swan hunters. If 10 trumpeters are part of that take, all swan hunting would immediately end.

   "We would like to see the Bear River Refuge to be closed to any swan hunting," said Craig Axford of the Utah Environmental Congress, one of the plaintiffs in the suit. "Given the situation with the swan population, it is not appropriate to be engaging in this type of hunting."

   In addition to the Utah Environmental Congress, groups and individuals that filed the suit included The Fund for Animals, the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, the Humane Society of the United States, Mack Bray of Jackson, Wyo., and long-time Utah environmental activist Margaret Pettis of Hyrum.

   Andrea Lococo of The Fund for Animals said the organizations' attorneys had not made a decision to ask the U.S. District Court in Washington for a preliminary injunction that would stop Saturday's opener.

   Tom Aldrich, chief of waterfowl management for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said the only way the swan hunt would not open Saturday is if a federal court order was issued to stop it.

   He said swans typically do not start appearing in northern Utah until the last week of October and usually hit their peak in mid-November.

   "Without swans being around, it is not going to be much of an issue," Aldrich said about the possibility of a preliminary injunction to stop the hunt. "In the heat of the swan hunt, it might be difficult to impose a closure."

   U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Chris Tollefson said the lawsuit was expected after his agency issued an environmental assessment earlier this year approving the hunt which has been allowed on an experimental basis the past five years.

   "We have met our legal obligations," he said. "We have enacted a number of measures to ensure hunting does not hurt the [trumpeter] population."
 

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