Once the database is complete, it will provide information for land use planning and policy decisions. Placement of power lines, establishing boundaries of wildlife refuges, issuing permits for mining operations—all have been influenced by the results of previous surveys.
This year’s final count was higher than expected: 24,105. But for all the concern about the trumpeters’ future, it’s the census and the Alaska region’s unique aircraft and operations that seem most endangered. At $229,000, the survey’s cost about equalled the region’s 25 annual counts of other wildlife combined. The Fish and Wildlife Service tracks other migratory birds as well as sea otters, moose, and bears. “I think it’s really questionable whether it will ever be done again,” said Russ Oates, a biologist and Fish and Wildlife manager in Alaska. “There’s been a lot of skepticism about putting this much money into a species that has obviously recovered from its all-time lows.”
Oates believes that monitoring the swan populations is still necessary. “We don’t want this species to decline again,” he said, adding that 24,000 Alaskan trumpeters plus the few thousand elsewhere are relatively small numbers for the worldwide population of any animal.
“I can tell you I’ll be here in 2010, and I’ll be putting in a proposal,” Oates said a moment later. Like the trumpeter swans, the census takers know a thing or two about fighting for survival.