La PORTE – In late November, La Porte resident and nature photographer Nancy Addie received a troubling message on Facebook. A friend sent pictures of a hunter with a dead mute swans, the same swans she's been photographing for years.
The message: "Get all the swan pics you can there is a man on the island who has a permit to murder our swans... watched him shoot 3 just sleeping in the water. The family is a family that has been here for 5 yrs. not aggressive or mean. Actually kept the geese down... not right..."
So she put a post to her own Facebook page: "Can folks get a permit to shoot the swans that live on our lakes? WHY? What is the reason??"
Addie, a wildlife lover, was appalled when she learned the Indiana Department of Natural Resources has issued a nuisance permit to the La Porte Area Lakes Association to cull the mute swans, which wildlife officials consider an invasive and aggressive species that damages the environment.
Her post continued: "I was wondering why I haven't seen as many swans the last couple of months. Supposedly, 'mute swans' are considered non-native and invasive, thus open to hunters. This makes me very angry and sad if it's true."
That single post started what can only be called a firestorm of controversy – with backlash not only against the hunter and those who sided with wildlife officials – but against Addie herself and those who opposed killing the birds.
After that, you might say, the feathers really started to fly.
The hunter, who shot the swans legally and with full knowledge of IDNR Law Enforcement, became the subject of criticism and even threats. He refused to speak to The News-Dispatch, saying he wanted to protect himself and his family.
Then, as the swan photos and posts circulated across social media, Addie found herself the subject of criticism, sometimes nasty.
"She posted her pictures and thoughts on social media, and she did not realize it could get so ugly," Chad Addie said, speaking for his wife. "The hunter said he was being threatened and it turned into a firestorm, and that is not at all what she was trying to do."
His wife, just five days after the initial post, was feeling targeted.
"I'm weary with this swan thing," she posted in early December. "There is so much misinformation out there about this/me, that I could scream (AARRGGHHH)!! The rumors, the accusations, name callings, making fun, slamming, etc... To clarify again...I put on my page passionately asking why is someone shooting the swans? Is it legal? What is the reason behind it? From the message I got about him shooting them and the pics of him dragging out their bodies that someone put on my page, made me mad and very upset. I gave the story the emotional side, (because hundreds of folks DO care besides me) DNR gave the reason and the why behind it."
A South Bend TV station got wind of the story and came out to shoot video of her photographing the swans.
And the social media name-calling heated up.
A Facebook page called "Save the Swans La Porte" was created. The site criticized a recent story in The News-Dispatch as "grossly inaccurate," saying, "Seems local writers, the IDNR and LaPorte Area Lake Association have little concern about facts."
Shortly afterward, a second site, "Save the Swans La Porte Truth" went up on Facebook. Of the same article, the site posted: "Those people on that other page don’t want to listen to facts. They just want the swans to stay because they’re 'pretty'..."
And because it's social media, of course, a third site went up mocking the controversy: "La Porte County Deliciously Delectable Swan Recipes."
Suddenly, Nancy Addie, whose photos of wildlife and scenery in La Porte County were featured on several local websites, found herself blacklisted on some.
"One local news site attacked her and blocked her from their site," Chad Addie said. "It doesn't make sense. She just loves the lakes and the beauty of them. Now to have these websites attacking her, really going after her, when all she wants to do is keep being positive and put the area in a good light."
Instead, she has been called everything from an "instigator" to a "crazy cat lady" to things much worse.
Chad Addie said it's been appalling to read some of the things posted about his wife. And he said she's even been heckled as she photographed wildlife around the lakes.
"People say ugly things but we try to stay positive," he said. "Don't wish ill will on anyone, not the hunter or anyone else. We spoke to him, wanted to know what was going on. That was the whole reason for the post, to find out what was happening and whether it was legal."
He said they understand the thinking behind the culling, though they don't agree with it.
"I grew up in an NRA-type family in Wisconsin," Chad Addie said. "My dad owned the local gun store. And I understand the conservation side of all this. But what I don't understand is why a few swans are considered a nuisance when you have hundreds of Canada geese that are overrunning the lakes."
Jay Anglin, a local hunter with a biology degree, sees some irony in the situation.
He said mute swans were originally introduced as ornamental birds, placed in small ponds on private property "to mitigate goose issues."
But, he said, as so often happens when people try to "outthink mother nature," things went bad. So now there's still an overabundance of Canada geese, and an overpopulation of mute swans as well.
And the social media fight?
"As for the social media aspect that is manifesting now ... Oh those beautiful swans! ... You know, they should have never been here in the first place," Anglin said.
Nancy Addie, of course, feels differently, and still photographs the birds whenever she can.
"From what we can tell there is one pair left, and one juvenile left," Chad Addie said. "We saw 20 or more at one time in the past, but now it appears there are only two or three left. It looks like it is down to one mating pair and they also want to destroy the eggs."
For now, at least, those three will be safe. The nuisance wildlife permit that allowed the shooting of the birds expired on Dec. 31.
As for Nancy Addie, she will keep taking pictures.
"She just loves to capture the beauty and share the beauty of La Porte," Chad Addie said. "She just wants to show La Porte in a good light, to share the beauty of what La Porte has."