Brutal Swan Killings Spark Public Outrage

Female mute swan

This female mute swan was one of two swans brutally beaten to death on Sechrist Lake over the weekend. Property owners there are furious with the brutality of what is being called “population control.” (Photo provided)

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.

Brinkman Mute Swan NWAC permitLt. 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.

  • Lisa

    Clearly, even if a permit was in place, these idiots were not following the rules on how to euthanize or how NOT to euthanize these creatures. If the DNR wants them “culled” then they should take care of it and not allow individuals who clearly don’t care how they kill things to take care of it. This is an incredibly stupid way of taking care of this “problem”, although I question if it is, indeed, as big of a problem as they say.

  • VicDan

    First of all, a special thanks to Stacey Page for this timely article.

    My wife and I are year around residents at Sechrist Lake and were speechless concerning the brutal killing of the swans. Yesterday, we were contacted by several of our neighbors concerning this inhumane action.
    We are members of the BLPOA (Barbee Lakes Property Owners Association) and were not contacted by the organization concerning the destruction of these beautiful birds. As far as we are concerned, the gentleman, only one (1) of three (3) which were identified, acted on their own and not as part of the BLPOA organization or the residents of the Barbee Chain of Lakes. Why was the permit issued? There was no vote or attempt to get feedback from owners and residents of Sechrist Lake or any of the other lakes on the Barbee Chain. We for two (2) would not have condoned the actions taken last Saturday. We would like to see a copy of the permit identifying the reasons it was issued. Where can we view the entire contents of the original permit?
    To our knowledge, these birds were not “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.” We personally know 2 gentlemen that live near the island where these birds were slain that fed these swans. We have observed the swans come out of the water and take bread from their hands.
    I am going to miss seeing the swans do their daily fly around the lake each morning. What a majestic sight!
    No permit should allow the inhumane brutal mutilation of any swan anywhere at any time.

    Concerned Citizens
    Vic and Laura Dan

  • scottrod

    I agree Lisa…if these birds are truly a nuisance or destructive (sometimes beautiful creatures are) then the state should issue the permits to the local DNR officers. Using pellet guns and boat oars as tools to remove this type and size of wildlife is just plain idiotic.

  • Susan Himes

    I can’t believe the DNR doesn’t attempt to relocate the swans if they are causing problems rather than issuing permits to destroy. It’s not as if there are as many of them as there are geese that are more of a nuisance. And I might add that there are more humane ways to destroy than the route these guys took. Sounds like these guys don’t hunt much or they would have used a little more common sense in their means of destroying these birds.

  • Terry

    this so wrong, to kill a swan is insane.they cant bite you or harm you in any way.so they can be destructive at times. but so is a dog or a cat so you think thats its right to kill them your so wrong…they have as much right to the lake as you have.

  • Deb

    I feel that the swans are a nuisance and their population needs to be controlled. As a parent with kids and a dog, it makes it dangerous to swim off of our pier when the swans are nesting for fear that they will be attacked. I feel that the DNR needs to have a relocation procedure as these animals are not natural to the area.

    • John

      Of course the Swans will protect their offspring thats just nature –they are not a nuisance — we are- We humans have poluted our lakes and streams for years — if you think it is dangerous then stay away from them. Maybe you should move and live next to Jed and Granny with a cement pond.

    • Eva

      Oh, it’s always “as a parent with…”

      And the other species of the world that actually belong here (because humans are an invasive species outside of our origin point in Africa, just to be scientifically technical about it all)? What about them? They have a right to protect their children, too.

      If you feel so very “threatened” by these birds, how about being a really good parent and supervising your children and said pets to ensure there’s no conflict? Novel idea, I know. How about that.

    • Steve

      find something else to do and leave the birds alone

    • Steve

      pack up the suv and move

    • Steve

      are you natural to the area ?

  • John

    What an absolute travesty! The Mute Swans are not an evasive species or a nuisance- We as humans are and have poluted our lakes and streams with our feces, 2-cycle oil and farmers run-off. Our family has never had a problem with them. To shoot and then beat it to death is unacceptable and these guys must be held accountable for their actions. And-these anti-swan people don’t want to control them,they want to eliminate them. I have contacted the:DNR, Mike Pence, BLPOA association and PETA. All of you should do the same. The Swans sould be put back on the protected species list, before ther are all decimated by these morons.

  • Passenger Pigeon

    Does anyone have a good swan recipe? Man does not Iive by Canadian Geese alone.

    • Eva

      Humans are THE menace, but of course objectivity isn’t our strong suit when are hysterical about “killer birds.” The birds are protecting their young, no mystery there. Humans are the encroachers, live with it.

      As for the trollish and childish comment by “Passenger Pigeon,” you just can’t be an adult and stay on topic, can you?

  • dcocke

    I really believe this entire incident is a travesty! There were not enough swans on Sechrist Lake to be an issue, let alone the method in which they were eliminated. We will be watching the DNR’s response closely. Remember last year, boaters were getting citations for boat numbers not being correctly place. Now we have people clubbing swans.

  • CodeRatz

    Swans are trash (much like carp) and need to be kept in check. If the DNR doesn’t have time to deal with the problem then so be it.

    The bigger problem on our 100+ natural lakes in Kosciusko county are the “lakers”. They (lakers) live for their own narcissistic pleasures with absolutely no regard as to how much they degrade natures ecosystem.

    Kudos to the people who grasp the big picture. Swans belong in zoos, not on Indiana’s beautiful waterways.

    • John

      Swans are not trash and you are an idiot!! They are a beautiful, wonderful animan and should be protected. We as humans polute our lake and streams more than they do.

    • Eva

      No, they aren’t “trash,” they are actually a NATIVE species that is circumboreal and have been in this part of the world *longer than we have* as a species. The problem is that the DNRs of MANY states are WRONG about their unproven, untested assumptions about the birds and can’t admit they are incorrect, even when there is ample evidence to support their presence far prior to European human arrivals. Their unwillingness to admit they are wrong and kill in lieu of conducting any actual scientific inquiry has been well-documented. We know a mistake is being made, but there’s this little thing called “saving face” by agencies which historically were not created to protect animals, but to sell them off, wholesale, for fees. Have a look at history and politics next time before hitting that retort key so quickly.

      Your referal to other species as “trash” certainly speaks volumes to your general lack of knowledge, your speciesism, your intolerance, and your violent attitudes towards other species you don’t understand. Consider yourself called that same category by others who see you in the same light due to your behaviour.

      No animals “belong in zoos,” humans must learn to “manage” our own propensity towards overpopulation. How outlandish that people like you hide your ignorant and foolish “opinions” behind the First Amendment because we’d all be better off without the kind of ignorance you’ve displayed.

    • Steve

      you sound like another moron who thinks everything belongs to you, do you think these swans just hatched out of an egg , just so they could around destroying things, how is any animal supposed to have regards for something, maybe they will send out sympathy cards after they destroy your things, you kinda remind me of elmer fudd , so you only want birds in zoos and no where else, so if i ever decide to go out for about cruise on one of your so called beautiful waterways i can be assured i will not be attacked by some angry bird. that sounds so comforting , i will be cruising along the waterway just looking at old grumpy people and nothing else. i really think you should sell out and move out in desert somewhere , i am quite sure there will be no angry swans that will pick on you, your town sounds like another pathetic place that has grown in this country.

    • Fen

      What do I think? I think you’re an ****

  • kentgoff

    I have lived at Chapman lake for over 50 years and I am a animal lover. I also know that as beautiful as these swans are they can be a menace. Just last summer my sister and I took our dogs down to the lake to cool off and were ran off by these swans. They kept coming after us and our dogs so we had to leave. If not for my sister’s insistence that we just leave and give up on our planned day there would have been a swan with a broken neck that day!
    When I was a young boy in a rowboat I was also harassed by swans and had to swat at them with the oar to keep it from attacking me. I have never had a problem with any other form of wildlife other than flies and mosquitos. As for the pellet gun, If I had a permit to shoot a nuisance swan on the lake I would use a pellet gun myself as it would be a lot safer than a centerfire rifle and a lot quieter than a shotgun. I would have tried to shoot it in the head rather than beat it to death with a oar but I know these birds are really tough critters and is easier said than done. Anyone who has never had a child,pet or themselves harassed by these swans would have a different viewpoint on this than those who have.

    • John

      If they went after your dogs, and that is just instinct — they protect them and their young ones jus like any other animal would – go near the geees an the lake and the same thing will happen.What a moron.

    • Eva

      Humans are THE menace, but of course objectivity isn’t our strong suit when are hysterical about “killer birds.” The birds are protecting their young, no mystery there. Humans are the encroachers, live with it.

    • Fen

      OMG, wildlife ruined your day at the lake?! Quick, kill it. Nothing that inconveniences you should be allowed to live!

  • Tina Cline

    I lived on Sechrist Lake for over 6 years and this is one of the MOST inhumane acts of violance that I can’t possibly imagine a person doing to such a beautiful innocent creature. Even duck hunters don’t beat them to death. This is clearly an act of evil violence that can not and will not be tolerated on the Barbee Chain. Permits and excuses do not or will not ever change the fact that you brutally murdered a beautiful creature. This act of violence should not be treated any different than beating a dog to death. The animal activist would not tolerate that and the people of Sechrist Lake will not either. Justice must be served! Your actions make me sick!

  • kentgoff

    It’s a shame we can’t share our experiences and opinions without being personally attacked by people who feel they have to resort to name calling.

  • Steve

    My final comment; i don,t even know where this place is or anything about it, but i do know that shooting anything and then beating it to death is wrong, i think you people need to really look at the real problem here, anybody who does something like this has other issues, other than the dislike of wildlife, very sad. i,am happy i don,t live there.

  • Fen

    If no one feeds them, they’ll find their own food sources and the population will reduce through natural attrition. It’s when humans feed these animals that populations artificially inflate. Just leave them alone and they’ll manage their own populations like all other animals do if only humans would just butt out!

  • Passenger Pigeon

    How many lakes must a swan pollute
    Before you call it a crime?
    How many people must a white swan harass
    Before it dies by the oar?
    Yes, how many times must the the swans fly
    Before they’re forever banned?
    The answer my friend is in George Hiatt’s hand.
    The answer is in these brave men’s hand.

    Yes, how many years can a invasive species exist
    Before it’s no more on our lakes?
    Yes, how many years can the swans exist
    Before they’re all killed?
    Yes, how many times can the swan lover turn his head
    Pretending he just doesn’t see?
    The answer my friend is in George Hiatt’s hand.
    The answer is in these brave men’s hand.

    Yes, how many times must a man look up
    Before he can see the swan no more?
    Yes, how many ears must one man have
    Before he can hear the majority of the property owners cry?
    Yes, how many aggressive polluting swans will it take till he knows
    That it’s the swans turn to die?
    The answer my friend is in George Hiatt’s hand.
    The answer is in these brave men’s hand.
    DNR permit, gun and oar in that hand, oh let us rejoice in justice and the cleansing of our lakes and land.