A 25-year-old Lino Lakes man shot and killed two federally protected trumpeter swans as he sat in a kayak on a suburban Anoka County lake, according to charges.
Conner B. Walsh was charged in District Court last week with numerous misdemeanors in connection with the killings last fall on Rice Lake in Lino Lakes. The counts include hunting protected birds, hunting small game without a license and failing to have a life jacket on board.
Walsh, who was charged by summons and has a court date for July 17, could not be reached for comment Monday. His mother said her son came by the house last week but added that the family has no way to reach him.
The trumpeter swan is the largest native waterfowl in North America and the largest swan in the world, at 6 feet in length and more than 25 pounds. The federally protected species cannot be taken without authorization under state law, the charges noted.
Walsh said that he thought the swans that he shot were snow geese, which can be hunted in season, according to the charges. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), however, points out that trumpeter swans are four to five times larger than snow geese.
“If somebody shoots [a trumpeter swan], that’s illegal,” said Margaret Smith, executive director of the Plymouth-based Trumpeter Swan Society. “We work all across North America, and we hear of shooting incidents everywhere.”
Smith said that if people haven’t seen a trumpeter swan before, “but maybe they’ve seen a snow goose before, they might say, ‘Hey, I thought it was a snow goose.’ ”
But even if the mistaken identification is sincerely expressed, she said, “Hunters are supposed to know the difference.”
According to the criminal complaint:
Someone notified authorities about a man hunting with a gun on Rice Lake. A DNR officer arrived about 11 a.m. to the northwest shore of the 442-acre lake and saw Walsh in a kayak trailing a swan as it swam.
Walsh aimed a shotgun and shot the swan, then grabbed the dead bird and dragged it along side the kayak.
DNR officers headed off Walsh in his kayak as he headed south and saw two dead trumpeter swans draped across the bow. When asked for a hunting license, he provided one from 2016. He said he tried to buy a license for 2018 but was denied because his driver’s license was expired.
Trumpeter swans originally graced wetlands in North America from Illinois northwest to Alaska, according to the DNR. Throughout the 1700s and 1800s, they were hunted for their meat, skins and feathers. At the same time, trumpeter swan habitat diminished as settlers moved across North America.
By the 1880s, they all but disappeared from Minnesota, and by the 1930s, only 69 remained in the lower 48 states, living in a remote area in southwestern Montana.
In 1982, there were no more than eight pairs in Minnesota when officials from the University of Minnesota, the Trumpeter Swan Society, the Three Rivers Park District and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service drafted a restoration plan.
As of 2015, the trumpeter swan population in Minnesota stood at roughly 17,000.