The hunter who shot and killed two trumpeter swans in Summer Lake Wildlife Area in October 2016 was sentenced in Lake County Circuit Court.
Michael J. Abbott, 35, Cottage Grove, was ordered Tuesday to pay $4,750 in restitution, serve one year probation and lose his hunting license for three years.
The restitution money will help the wildlife area purchase new swans from a breeding organization in Wyoming. The two swans who were killed — Fiona and Hope — were considered important pieces of the state’s trumpeter swan reintroduction program.
Abbott was found guilty of two misdemeanor wildlife violations in September after a one-day trial.
He initially reported shooting one young swan, Fiona, on Oct. 16, 2016, and brought her body to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife office at Summer Lake, according to Ryan Tague, an Oregon State Police wildlife officer who responded to the incident.
A group of hunters in the area confronted Abbott and made sure he turned himself in, Tague said.
Wildlife officers later found a second injured swan, Hope. The 2-year-old swan had a broken wing, but could still swim.
Tague and another officer paddled in a canoe on the lake and rescued her with a giant net. Hope was in rehabilitation but died in February during surgery.
“He brought Fiona and didn’t tell us about Hope,” Tague said. “That’s where it changes from a hunter accident to something else going on.”
Abbott told officials he mistook the swan for a snow goose. He said in trial that he saw a bird fly over his head and he pulled his shotgun up and fired thinking it was a snow goose. He said the shot was at close range, only hitting Fiona.
Fiona’s frozen body was brought into the courtroom during the trial to prove the shot was fired from farther way, and the shot also hit Hope.
“We had Fiona in there so the judge could see he didn’t shoot them close up,” Lake County District Attorney Sharon Forster said at the time. “He was dead set saying, ‘I didn’t kill Hope.’”
Fiona was an offspring of the beloved Sunriver Nature Center’s pair of trumpeter swans, Chuck and Gracie. She was relocated from Sunriver to Summer Lake late that summer before being killed in the fall.
Chuck and Gracie had four more offspring last summer, but the family had a violent setback when Chuck was found shot on Thanksgiving. The 11-year-old swan was rescued, but had to be euthanized.
The Sunriver Nature Center is offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever shot Chuck.
Wildlife officials plan to bring Chuck’s four offspring, called cygnets, to Summer Lake in the spring.
About 120 trumpeter swans, most from out of state, have been released at Summer Lake through the reintroduction program.
Marty St. Louis, Summer Lake Wildlife Area manager, said the goal of the reintroduction effort is to establish a consistent breeding population in the region. That effort has been held up by incidents like the shooting that killed Fiona and Hope.
Hope was the first cygnet hatched in the wild at Summer Lake to reach adulthood.
“We lost a very valuable bird,” St. Louis said. “The first one that was produced on the wildlife area. For our program, we have such few numbers and her institutional knowledge of the area was very important.”
Trumpeter swans were hunted to near-extinction around the turn of the 20th century, and all were lost in Oregon. Since, the population has been slowly recovering through programs such as the one at Summer Lake, a 19,000-acre site in central Lake County.
Repopulating swans in the region has been frustrating, St. Louis said. For example, six swans hatched in the area and survived last winter. But two were killed in September by a lighting strike.
“This program is just fraught with one step forward and two steps back,” St. Louis said.
The restitution money from Abbott’s sentence will allow the wildlife area to purchase up to five young swans from the Wyoming Wetland Society, which breeds and sends swans to locations around the Western United States.
Elise Wolf, director of Native Bird Care of Sisters, testified at Abbott’s trial about how critical Hope and Fiona were to the area, and how they cannot be replaced.
“Hope and Fiona were very important birds for the reintroduction program, and their lives should not be disregarded and wasted,” Wolf said.
Wolf worked to rehabilitate Hope for more than three months at her facility in Sisters.
She provided physical therapy for the swan, who would stretch her neck up to Wolf’s chin and open her 6-foot wingspan.
When Hope died on the operating table in February, Wolf wanted to find a way to turn the heartbreaking experience into an academic opportunity. Through a $1,000 donation from the Oregon Hunters Association, Wolf had a taxidermist mount Hope for use at various educational programs.
The donation also covered a mounted snow goose so Wolf can show people the difference.
Her first presentation was Dec. 2 at the High Desert Museum.
Wolf kept advocating for the swans through the entire legal process. She wrote letters of support to the district attorney and traveled to be at the trial.
With Abbott’s sentence, Wolf feels a sense of closure.
“It’s the end of a sad chapter,” Wolf said. “None of this brought her back obviously. But fighting for her all the way to the end was really important to me.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7820, firstname.lastname@example.org