Bringing trumpeter swans back home to Idaho

Bringing trumpeter swans back home to Idaho

DRIGGS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - Recently two young trumpeter swans were released in the Fox Creek conservation easement near Driggs.

This is part of a 10-year project to get the trumpeter swan population to nest in the Greater Yellowstone area. They used to but were crowded out by humans. These two swans will spend a year in the wetlands owned by the Huntsman family. It's hoped they'll bond to the pond, and when they're old enough to fly, they'll return to Idaho to lay their eggs.

Fourth-grade students from Rendezvous Elementary are all over this project. A resource specialist for the Teton Regional Land Trust visited their classroom to teach habitat protection for the swan. It is the rarest breeding bird in the United States. The students got to touch feathers on a huge wing, feel the claws on the trumpeter's feet and get a lesson in proper use of binoculars.

The reason for all this training: preparation to see the actual release of the two young trumpeter swans to Idaho. 

"We're doing this for a number of reasons," says Bill Dell'Isola, resource specialist for the Teton Regional Land Trust. "The trumpeter is an 'at risk' species in this region. It's really important to get the students involved and also the community because without young conservationists or new conservationists we might not have a lot to work with in future years. It really comes down to restoring a nesting population for an 'at risk' species in Teton Valley." 

The Huntsman family owns the property that will be protected from development from now on. It's a perfect habitat for the swans. Quiet, plenty of water, plenty of feed and few humans bothering their nesting sites. It's hoped the swans will bond with the pond, and once they're old enough to fly, they'll remember this place on Fox Creek and come back. 

Before the swans were released, Cary Myler with U.S. and Wildlife held the male trumpeter and let the children pet the giant bird. It was a most unusual opportunity.

"We think it's work the risk," says Myler, "for these children to be able to bond with the bird. Especially these kids. They're not getting the same outdoor experience I had when I was a kid."  

Then, it was time to let the swans out of their cages. The male swan burst into the water with a loud 'honk.'

The female took a few seconds, but within a minute, both swans were swimming away side by side. 

"It's gratifying to think in the 1900's these birds were widespread across North America," explains Dell'Isola. "By 1930 they were almost extinct. The Yellowstone area harbored the last 70 swans in the lower 48 states." 

There are six thousand swans in the Rocky Mountains now. Very few nest in Idaho, and this project is trying to change that.   

"There are fewer and fewer trumpeters living in Idaho," says Joselin Matkins of Teton Regional Land Trust.

"If more people like the Huntsmans would consider conservation easements, we could increase wildlife habitat in the state." 

She adds, "When the trumpeter swans are doing well, it means we have clean water and clean air. That's good for all of us." 

For fourth-grader Enoch Marcum, the releasing of the swans was a remarkable field trip. "This is really a special moment. The trumpeter swan is beautiful. This is a really good experience."

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