The alleged brutal killing of a pair of mute swans over the weekend has residents of Sechrist Lake up in arms and calling for the dismissal of a property owner board member responsible for it.
George Hiatt is a part-time resident of Irish Lake and a member of the Barbee Lake Property Owners Association. On Saturday, Rhonda Doyle said she and her husband witnessed Hiatt’s brutal attack on the swans and she wants him removed from the BLPOA.
Doyle said Hiatt and two other men came onto the lake on a pontoon towing a kayak. “My husband called me outside to show me the first boat of the year on the lake,” Doyle recounted. But to their horror, the couple watched helplessly from across the lake as the men shot the birds with a pellet gun then mercilessly beat them to death with a boat oar. “We yelled at them but they ignored us,” she added.
Hiatt told StaceyPageOnline.com Sunday evening, “We’ve been working on addling the swan eggs for four years” to control the population. He said the swans are considered nuisance wildlife and “we have a state permit to take the swans. It’s kind of political,” Hiatt added matter-of-factly. “Some people like it, some don’t.”
When asked what method of destroying the birds were allowed per the permit, Hiatt said, “The DNR doesn’t even know what to do. We’ve already talked to them and the officer from Syracuse didn’t know we had a permit, but it came from the state.” Hiatt said that is the only information he could provide.
Indiana Conservation Officer Cpl. Ashlee Jackson was contacted about Saturday’s swan killings and told StaceyPageOnline.com, “The DNR Law Enforcement Division investigates complaints to determine if violations have occurred. It is important that permit holders comply to the stipulations set forth on the permits. If violations have occurred, the department may take actions to ensure compliance is achieved. We are currently investigating this complaint.”
Additionally, Jackson said, “Wildlife management is necessary to sustain healthy ecosystems and can often become a sensitive topic amongst people whose opinions differ from those of Indiana’s wildlife biologists.”
In 2006, residents of Webster and Backwater lakes were dealing with similar problems when a permit was issued to one man who was killing the swans on that lake. In June of that year, recognizing the matter was fueling public outrage, the DNR revoked the permit and temporarily revised the law dictating who could receive permits to destroy the waterfowl and placing more restrictions on the permits.
The temporary injunction also required permit applicants to provide the nature of the problem, the exact location of the problem, the method which the birds would be lethally removed, and how many would be removed. Those who were issued permits were also required to notify law enforcement before any swan was killed.
Lt. William Browne is the public relations officer for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources law enforcement division. Although he was not yet able to address this case today, noting an investigation into the killings is currently underway, he did provide a copy of the permit. The permit defines the acceptable method for “taking” adult mute swans as “firearms and oil or otherwise destroy mute swan eggs.”
The permit was issued to Chuck Brinkman of Zionsville on Jan. 1 and gives only Brinkman and Hiatt the authority to “take” nuisance mute swans as defined as “species of wild animals that are causing or threatening to cause damage to property or posing a health or safety threat to persons or domestic animals.”
In a separate document provided by Lt. Browne, the IDNR’s methods of euthanasia are also clearly noted.
“Population control is one thing,” said Doyle, noting she refuses to let this issue go. “There are 30 to 40 (mute swans) on Irish Lake and Big Barbee, but Sechrist only had the two and we loved them.”
According to the Indiana DNR website, the mute swans are not native birds and were brought to the United States in the late 1800s to decorate parks and estates. Since then, they have bred and some areas now have wild populations that are devastating natural vegetation and killing native birds.
Since the alleged beating death of the swans on Sechrist Lake Saturday, Little Barbee Lake resident Ron Nowaczynski reported to the Barbee Lakes Neighborhood Watch group on Facebook, “I watched those guys shoot at a swan at least 20 times on Little Barbee Saturday. It was right next to shore and they could have easily had shots that hit some of the cottages directly behind it. My son was very upset to see any of this. This needs to stop! … Gun safety is a hot topic right now, and they sure didn’t know the first thing. I hope to never see that again.”
Lt. Browne said a thorough investigation is being conducted and two conservation officers plan to meet with Hiatt and Brinkman on Thursday. Although he said there appears to have been no violations at this time, he will provide StaceyPageOnline.com the officers complete findings when the investigation is finished.