Dear Mayor and Members of Council:
It has come to our attention that there is some misinformation circulating about the Trumpeter Swans that we would like to clear up. Also, several questions and concerns have been raised that we would like to answer.
Question: What is it about the proposed marina, in contrast to the present one, that puts continued over-wintering by Trumpeter Swans at risk?
Answer: These concerns include: the proposed new permanent wave break may cause the Bay to freeze earlier and longer making it impossible for the birds to over-winter there; bubblers to keep the water open are subject to breaking down and there is a concern about the cost of buying, maintaining and replacing them; the expanded marina may reduce the area of water open to the swans and may restrict the area they need to take flight; changes may impact the available required depth of the water making it impossible for the swans to feed; increased activity, especially by personal watercraft will discourage swans from over-wintering; construction is scheduled from September to December during the period of time when the swans arrive.
Question: Are Trumpeter Swans really at risk?
Answer: The current Ontario population of Trumpeter Swans is between 800 and 1,000. The 200 or so swans over-wintering at LaSalle Park therefore are 20 to 25 % of the Ontario population. Trumpeter swans were extirpated (hunted to extinction) in Ontario in the 1880s. Trumpeter swans were reintroduced to Ontario over 30 years ago by a retired Ministry of Natural Resources biologist Harry Lumsden. It’s taken more than three decades for these swans to reach a sustaining population of up to 1,000 individuals. Hunting devastated Trumpeter Swan populations all over North America although breeding populations survived in western Canada and the western U.S. In 2006, The United States Fish and Wildlife Service determined there were about 34,000 Trumpeter Swans in North America only 8,000 east of the Rockies of which 1,000 are in Ontario. So yes, the Trumpeter swans population in Ontario is very fragile and in need of protection.
Contention: The Trumpeter Swans have been lured to LaSalle Park.
Fact: The first trumpeter swan to mate in the wild and migrate in Ontario in over 150 years came to LaSalle Park in Burlington with mate and six cygnets, on their own accord, in 1993. A successful breeder, in subsequent years she continued her migration with her offspring until 2004 when she was killed by a speedboat in Georgian Bay. The concentration of Trumpeter Swans in LaSalle Park is the largest in Ontario making it an ideal location for researchers to gather data on the swans. The swans definitely chose LaSalle Park as ideal wintering habitat providing an excellent opportunity for education, scientific research, overall health and a public attraction.
Contention: There are other over-wintering locations they could move to. LaSalle Park isn’t necessary for their survival.
Fact: As we all know, there has been a great deal of development along the Great Lakes and along the shores of Ontario’s interior lakes. Good wintering habitat for Trumpeter Swans is in very short supply. As well, they have very specific needs in terms of sheltered water that doesn’t freeze over, feeding depth of between 3.5 to 4 feet, open areas for take-offs and landings, personal space requirements etc. that are not as easily accommodated as some other water birds. Just as important to the survival of Trumpeter Swans as places to breed and nest are places for them to overwinter. LaSalle Park provides a secure environment and safe harbor for resting, pair bonding, mating and feeding.
Question: Why do you feed wild birds? Isn’t that discouraged?
Answer: Corn is used to assist in tagging the birds and should not be confused with feeding. Over the past two decades the Trumpeter Swan Restoration Group has been able to develop a comfort level among the swans so that tagging, collection of blood samples and other scientific work can be conducted peacefully and with minimum disruption to the birds. This is in sharp contrast to researchers working in other areas who must trap birds in nets etc. The corn is not provided in a large enough quantity to supplant the swan’s normal diet or feeding habits. The Bay at LaSalle Park contains the ideal feeding depth and aquatic plant life to fulfill the swans feeding needs.
Question: Why are wing tags used? Don’t they interfere with flight?
Answer: The wing tags are designed not to interfere with flight and were chosen over neck-banding as a safer way to tag swans. Wing tags are essential for determining population expansion, rates of fledging, location of nesting habitat, wintering habitat and migration routes.
Contention: The Trumpeter Swans, like geese, defecate in the Park making it unpleasant for people. Swans are creating water pollution.
Answer: The impact of the Trumpeter Swans is minimal. They do not congregate in parks in Burlington like geese. Their excrement is not “pollution” but part of nature’s nutrient cycle. We should remember, Trumpeter Swans were hunted out of existence in Ontario and have made, with the help of many dedicated people, a small comeback. They belong in Ontario and definitely fit the lifestyle and image of Burlington. Perhaps we can make a small accommodation for them. They are beautiful and are here for just a few winter months. Many residents and tourists get great pleasure just from seeing them.
Question: Your group has had meetings with Town staff, Council members and the consultants. Haven’t your concerns been addressed?
Answer: We are pleased that there appears to be a genuine desire to accommodate the swans, however, many issues are still outstanding. For instance, information on proposed bubblers to keep the water from freezing has not been committed or confirmed. Changes to the shape of the east end of the wave break are being discussed but without a conclusion. According to the marina’s website, construction is still slated for September, October and November when we have made it clear that construction during the time Trumpeter swans will be arriving (mid-October on) is untenable. As well, there is no mention, at all of the swans in the business case for the marina. Finally, there has been an inconsistent response about whether an expanded marina would have a longer season that stretches into the swan’s winter arrival. At this time with questions still unanswered and no new plans drafted we will continue our efforts toward public awareness of this project as we find very few residents are aware of the magnitude and the consequences of this major expansion.