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Mute swan control debate continues in Coventry

1/16/2014 - South Side Leader
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By Emily Chesnic

Some Coventry Township residents have been vocalizing their disapproval with the disappearance of mute swans from the Portage Lakes since the situation unfolded last summer.

Geoffrey Westerfield, of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ (ODNR) Division of Wildlife, was present at the Jan. 9 Coventry Township Board of Trustees meeting to defend the removal of the “invasive species” from the area.

At his first regular meeting in office, newly elected Trustee Edward Diebold said he, too, was disappointed upon learning the swans were being eliminated from the lakes. However, he searched for answers and wanted to help the public understand why the ODNR stepped in to manage the number of mute swans in the township. Diebold said he invited Westerfield to the meeting with the hopes a formal presentation could help residents better understand why mute swans could be burdensome to the area.

Westerfield admitted the ODNR should have educated the public better on the matter a while back, before the control of mute swans escalated into such a huge debate.

He defined mute swans, which were brought over centuries ago from Europe, as orange-billed waterfowl weighing about 30 pounds and measuring about 60 inches in length. Westerfield explained the Portage Lakes also are home to a few trumpeter swans, which are native to Ohio and are encouraged by the ODNR to stay locally and reproduce, as they are on the endangered species list currently. These swans have a black bill.

He said a mute swan has a “voracious appetite” for plant materials and is “highly territorial and aggressive.”

“They significantly disrupt the natural ecosystems,” Westerfield said.

He added mute swans have been known to attack those using the lakes for recreational purposes.

He explained the ODNR has an invasive species policy in place that calls for the elimination of mute swans from its lands for the safety of the public, other waterfowl, vegetation and water quality.

Westerfield said the ODNR follows euthanasia guidelines set forth by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

“The ultimate goal is to have zero mute swan on the Portage Lakes,” he said.

Westerfield explained the mute swan is considered a nuisance in almost every state across the United States, as the population of the bird has increased drastically since the early 1990s.

He said the larger plan — supported by the American Bird Conservancy and National Audubon Society — is to eliminate mute swans from the wild in the United States in a few years.

In 2006, Westerfield said the ODNR began egg addling, or poking a hole in eggs, in all nests found around the Portage Lakes to halt the hatching of additional mute swans.

He said 408 eggs have been removed from the Portage Lakes in the past seven years.

Westerfield assured the public the ODNR is professional and treats each bird humanely, euthanizing each adult swan as quickly as possible.

Residents still expressed sadness over the loss of the swans, after the presentation. Many argued the birds are not aggressive and even allow children to feed them by hand.

Trustee Tom Seese announced a two-year moratorium recently was secured to keep the ODNR from killing mute swans found on the Portage Lakes. The practice of egg addling will continue, however, he said.

Seese said he also struggles with the loss of the swans, noting he never heard of incidents where they have bothered anyone.

Trustee David Calderone asked Westerfield to keep in close contact with the township so they know when the adult swans will start to be eliminated again.

Also during the meeting, the trustees approved an Economic Development Transfer Form (TREX) from the Ohio Department of Commerce, Division of Liquor Control, submitted by Anthony Pierce, of the Portage Lakes Brewing Co. LLC, 503 Portage Lakes Drive.

Zoning Inspector George Beckham has explained the applicant would like Portage Lakes Brewing, a business that sells wine and beers, to be a place where products could be sampled before purchased.

Additionally, Road Superintendent Lael Stouffer announced that about $50,000 of Community Development Block Grant funding soon would be used to finalize plans to enhance drainage capabilities and ultimately lessen flooding in the Cottage Grove area.

During the meeting, Zoning Inspector George Beckham announced he has been enforcing the township’s code regarding digital signs in the township.

He also said the township is accepting letters of interest and applications from those interested in filling an open spot on the Zoning Commission.

Before the start of the regular meeting, the board held an organizational meeting, during which Seese was selected as board chairman for 2014 and Calderone as vice chairman. Additionally, Seese was chosen to oversee the Fire Department this year; Calderone, the Road and Parks departments; and Diebold, administration and the Senior Center.

At the close of the meeting, an executive session was held, with no action taken, regarding a Bureau of Workers’ Compensation matter.

The next regular board meeting is set for Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall, 68 Portage Lakes Drive.

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