As Kent Clegg works his 300-acre Idaho farm this spring, he'll keep an eye out for trumpeter swans winging to Canada. Clegg has spent four winters moving hundreds of the world's largest swans from seven miles of the Henrys Fork of the Snake River in Harriman State Park.
Q Why move the swans?
A Trumpeters were almost wiped out by the 1930s. Then, when they were listed as endangered and started coming back, the few that were left stuck together and bottlenecked in the best winter habitat. Now they've lost knowledge of other migration patterns and jam into Henrys Fork.
Q That's bad?
A Three thousand swans strip the river of vegetation, which kills the cover for the fish—and this is a blue-ribbon trout stream. Plus one major freeze could decimate the birds.
Q So what's your job?
A Idaho Fish and Game hires me to capture cygnets and relocate them to the Bear River, 200 miles south on the Utah border, where they haven't been in 100 years. It's intense. You need the worst conditions—dark, snowy. If the birds can see the horizon, they'll fly
Q How do you do it?
A I put an engine off an ultralight plane on an airboat I built out of Kevlar, which is strong enough to beat on rocks in the river. I go out at night wearing a neoprene suit and a helmet with a floodlight. I can just pull them into the boat—which is good. They weigh about 20 pounds.
Q Is it worth all the trouble?
A We hope the swans will migrate from Canada back to the Bear River or farther south. We know some move on clear to California.
Photography courtesy of Kent Clegg
This article was first published in March 2006. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.