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Paula Quam, Forum News Service, Published November 29 2013

Trumpeter swans shot near Detroit Lakes; DNR seeks public’s help

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – Two trumpeter swans were found shot to death near here recently, and officials with the state Department of Natural Resources are asking for the public’s help in finding out why.

The incident occurred Nov. 17, the last day of deer hunting in Minnesota.

The swans were found east of Detroit Lakes between Rock and Rice lakes, north of Cotton Lake.

“We received a call around 2:30 in the afternoon from somebody who lived on the lake,” said DNR Conservation Officer Chris Vinton. “They said they heard four or five shots, then a pause, then two more shots.”

Vinton said that although it was deer hunting season, it was apparent the incident was no accident.

“We can only speculate that it may have been a frustrated deer hunter who was already driving around with a rifle and just happened upon the swans,” said Vinton, who added that it appears they were shot just for the fun of it. “I doubt they went out looking to go shoot some swans, but had the means and had the opportunity.”

Vinton said one swan was lying dead by the road, while the other may have lived long enough to walk a quarter-mile out onto the newly frozen lake where it died. Because the ice was so thin, Vinton was unable to retrieve it.

“I just took some pictures, and now we’re just trying to figure out who did it,” he said.

Trumpeter swans were once on the endangered species list and nearly extinct when they were reintroduced to the Tamarac area in the late 1980s.

“Since then, they’ve really taken off (and reproduced) and now there are many of them around the area,” said Vinton, adding that the beautiful bird remains on the threatened species list.

But Vinton said because these swans were “placed” in this area, they don’t know how to migrate because migrating is a learned behavior.

“They only travel as far as there is open water for them to survive,” said Vinton, which could explain why they were hanging around Rice and Rock lakes, where a culvert remains open throughout the winter.

“They might re-learn how to migrate in a couple of generations, but right now they still don’t know,” he added.

Although shooting a protected species is a misdemeanor and punishable by a stiff fine, Vinton said he would love for the people responsible to come forward and admit what they did so that “something can be worked out.”

Otherwise, he said, he hopes somebody else with information will call the anonymous tip line at (800) 652-9093. Rewards up to $500 will go to tipsters whose leads help DNR officials solve such crimes.

Tips also can be made on the website dnr.state.mn.us, where a page is set up to report poachers.