Amy Seaman, of Montana Audubon, on “The Cascading Success of Wetland Restoration”
The Cascading Success of Wetland Restoration
Amy Seaman, Associate Director of Conservation, MT Audubon and MWCC Board Member
Just south of Ennis MT, in the shadow of The Sphinx, the Granger Ranches is a decade into the long process of restoring over 1,000 acres of valuable wetland habitat east of the Madison River along O’Dell creek. The restored wetlands lay hidden by grassy valley benches, but as of late, Trumpeter Swans have found them through introductions and winter wanderings. Since wetland restoration began in 2005, owner Jeff Laszlo says he has become the proud producer of not just delicious Montana beef cattle and hay, but of spectacular wildlife habitat that contributes greatly to bird life, and supplies cool, clear, fresh water to the Madison River and fishery.
Trumpeter Swan reintroduction efforts here are part of an aggressive management plan to increase breeding numbers between the Centennial, Blackfoot, Madison, and Flathead Valleys, and to encourage birds to use a variety of winter habitats. Unlike many species, swans use traditional knowledge of wintering locations to guide their fall migrations, and population levels were so low in the early 1900’s that the tradition to migrate anywhere but Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge for winter virtually vanished. Swan introductions began at O’dell, and around western Montana in 2001 and are planned in the Madison Valley until the area supports 5 nesting pairs. So far a strong partnership between the landowner, state and federal agencies, and many conservation organizations have ensured that 5 birds have been released here every year. Each was captive reared by the Wyoming Wetlands Society, who also has the daunting task of transporting the precious cargo.
There have been indications of success. Not only has the O’dell creek site supported 3 year-round resident swans, but these residents now regularly share the site with more than 30 others in winter. Already resident birds have been seen in pairs in spring, and despite no evidence of breeding, project partners are hopeful as breeding often takes up to 6 years following introductions. Trumpeter Swans typically pair up until between 5 and 7 years of age, with some waiting as long as 20 years to begin their monogamous breeding efforts! Additionally, the restoration of the Trumpeter Swan has allowed natural ecological processes to return to the site, allowing the return of many native and even rare plants.
This story of success is not the first time Montana has played a special role in the recovery of this elegant bird. Outside of Alaska, Montana provided “the de facto winter refuge” allowing enough birds to escape persecution in the early 1900’s that loss of the Rocky Mountain breeding population was avoided. Protection measures allowed the natural recovery of this population through the 1980’s, bringing Trumpeter Swan numbers up from the suspected
In addition, as a true land-mark of success, Trumpeter Swans successfully raised a brood of cygnets (the fancy word for young Trumpeters) this year on a private wetland in the Missoula Valley. This marks the first time in recorded history, with records back to the 1800’s, that swans nested successfully there. The private location is on a conservation easement within the Clark Fork River/Grass Valley Important Bird Area (part of an international program), showing that, like O’dell Creek, conservation on working lands is a vital step in protecting our state’s wildlife and water resources.
It is intended that over the course of this restoration project, Trumpeter Swan populations will be better connected and secured throughout the Rocky Mountain region of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.
All of the birds that are captive reared and released are given unique leg or neck bands (depending on size at release) so be sure to keep your eyes out for banded swans! Report any findings you have to Claire Gower (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Link to Missoulian Article: http://www.missoulacurrent.com/
Link to MA page: http://mtaudubon.org/2016/09/madison-valley-trumpeter-swan-restoration/