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Autumn 2003 - Act•ionLine

by Starre Vartan | Autumn 2003

Mute Swan Update

Last time Friends of Animals reported to our members about the Mute Swan, it was with good news: The Maryland Department of Natural Resources agreed to the request by U.S. Fish and Wildlife to surrender their permit to shoot Mute Swans until a Draft Environmental Assessment was completed, due to public pressure from FoA and litigation.

That success quickly turned sour when the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and the Atlantic Flyway Council, a committee made up of the Fish and Wildlife departments of 17 states, released a chilling document urging the elimination of 67% of the existing Mute Swan population throughout those states. Nine states' Fish and Wildlife departments in the Atlantic Flyway region have agreed with this document, supporting not only the shooting of Mute Swans, but also the establishment of a hunting season (North Carolina, Maryland, New York, Rhode Island, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and Delaware). Four states (Maine, Connecticut, South Carolina and Idaho) support swan shooting although not a hunting season. Of these states, many have suggested that a proposed upper limit of swans that could be shot would not be high enough; they want to shoot more. Several other states have yet to weigh in, but seem to be making movements towards or have already begun the process for eradication of their populations of Mute Swans.

Most recently, The Atlantic Flyway Council and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service okayed the plan to “shoot 3,100 Mute Swans annually in the Atlantic Flyway for the next ten years”. The killing of more than 30,000 Mute Swans went from a proposition on paper to approved policy in little over a month, due to an abbreviated commentary period and a diligence on the part of the Fish and Wildlife Service to get it passed quickly.

Friends of Animals has made the case to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that Mute Swans should be left to live in peace, and our sound scientific and ethical arguments can be viewed online at www.friendsofanimals.org/swandea.htm, a document written to counter the arguments and dubious science that U.S Fish and Wildlife and the Atlantic Flyway Council presented. Their document can be viewed in its entirety online.

In brief, Fish and Wildlife's main arguments for the killing of Mute Swans have been that Mutes, with their rapidly expanding populations, displace other water birds and contribute to the degradation of local ecologies because they eat large quantities of grasses necessary for a healthy aquatic ecosystem. Mute Swans are considered an "exotic" species — one state likened them to the snakehead fish and the nutria — and this leaves them especially vulnerable to attack by wildlife agents.

No official environmental impact statement has been made concerning the Mute Swan. Data about what Mutes eat, how much they eat, and, most importantly, their impact on the ecology of a given wetland, has not been studied. The killing of thousands of birds appears, therefore, to be an idea based upon convenience.

In many waterways, including the Chesapeake Bay, the ecology of the area has definitely declined. But the problem is not Mute Swans: It's us. Our commercial developments on wetlands, destructive fishing techniques, and the farm-produced nitrogen runoff that clouds the water and sickens plants — these things make up the real problem with our waterways. Fish and Wildlife even agrees; in their official statement, they write, “While we do not disagree that pollution and other anthropogenic factors are largely responsible for long-term declines…in the Chesapeake Bay, that argument is irrelevant.” Apparently the (disputed) harm that other creatures pose toward the environment is punishable by death, but the harm that humans cause is irrelevant; this opinion is what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife bases it’s decisions upon.

The Mute Swans' impact on other birds, Fish and Wildlife’s document asserts, includes aggressive territorialism and the smashing of other ground nesting birds' eggs with their feet. Using individual reports and unpublished information, Fish and Wildlife deems the Mute Swan 'aggressive' towards other wildlife and people in several areas of the report. Yet anyone who has lived around Mute Swans knows they are excellent parents and will defend their nests and young, as do most healthy animals. Education on how to interact with swans and other wildlife is a humane step in the direction of coexisting with the animals we share this planet with, and is preferential to shooting schemes that encourage ignorance and abuse.

Reference to the 'exploding' population and estimates made of the swans' future population are also dubious. Swan populations have increased, but to extrapolate these numbers into the future as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife has done ignores natural population dynamics, including disease, severe winters, predation, and natural factors of carrying capacity in a given habitat. Only humans constantly move beyond the carrying capacity of our land — to the continual detriment of other animals. There is irony in the human urge to dictate other animals' populations when we seem quite unable to manage our own.

As nine out of the 17 states listed in the Draft Environmental Assessment from Fish and Wildlife have not only supported swan killing, but also a hunting season on the swans, it seems that the motivation behind the plan was always to institute a hunting season on the Mute Swan. The step-wise process begins with swan ‘population control’ and ends with a hunting season once the public accepts the former.

From the beginning, the language within the Fish and Wildlife document indicated intentions to hunt. In several places, Mute Swans were listed as a "resource". This illustrates the Fish and Wildlife Service's basic myopic view of the Mute Swan. The swan is not permitted to be a living animal that nurtures offspring, partners monogamously, or grows old. It is a “resource” for hunters and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. A hunting columnist exemplified this attitude in The Day (New London, CT), suggesting that the best way to control Mute Swan populations is to hunt and eat them.

Some wildlife groups (see sidebar) have supported the shooting of the mute swans in the name of protecting other bird species, and some have supported egg addling schemes, or pinioning of birds. The latter two swan management techniques are also problematic. Egg addling — coating eggs with oil or otherwise rendering eggs unhatchable - inevitably leads to the death of parent birds as they try to protect their young. The Fish and Wildlife Service calls for the addling of over 1,700 nests in the Northeast, in addition to shooting the birds. Pinioning, which restricts movement by cutting wings so the birds cannot fly, thwarts the natural activities of the birds, and can be painful.

Minimizing human impact on the environment will surely do more for our waterways than the shooting of Mute Swans will. Using the Mute Swan as a scapegoat will not improve our environment, but will only make the shooting death of one more animal acceptable in our society.

Write to the governor in your state and contact the commissioner of the Fish and Wildlife Department or it’s equivalent (see contacts below) and let them know that you oppose the mistreatment and shooting of Mute Swans in your state.

The following state wildlife agencies support Mute Swan shooting to control population and the establishment of a Mute Swan hunting season:

MARYLAND:

Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr.
State House
100 State Circle
Annapolis, MD 21401-1925
Phone: 410-974-3901
Fax: 410-974-3275
E-mail: governor@gov.state.md.us

C. Ronald Franks, Secretary
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
580 Taylor Ave
Annapolis, Maryland 21401 Telephone: (410) 260-8100
Fax (410) 260-8111
E-mail: drossiter@dnr.state.md.us

PENNSYLVANIA:

Governor Edward G. Rendell
225 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Telephone: (717) 787-2500
Fax: (717) 772-8284

Vernon Ross, Director
Pennsylvania Game Commission
2001 Elmerton Avenue
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17110-9797
Telephone: (717) 787-3633
Fax: (717) 772-0502
pgccomments@state.pa.us

VIRGINIA:

Governor Mark R. Warner
State Capitol, 3rd Floor
Richmond, Virginia 23219
Telephone: (804) 786-2211
Fax: (804) 371-6351

William L. Woodfin, Jr, Director
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
4010 West Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23230
Telephone: (804) 367-1000
Fax: (804) 367-0405
E-mail: dgifweb@dgif.state.va.us

DELAWARE:

Governor Ruth Ann Minner
Tatnall Building
150 William Penn Street
Dover, DE 19901
Telephone: (302) 744-4101
Fax: (302) 739-2775

Lloyd Alexander, Director
Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife
89 Kings HWY
Dover, DE 19901
Telephone: (302) 739-5295
Fax: (302) 739-6157
E-mail: lloyd.alexander@state.de.us

NEW YORK:

Governor George E. Pataki
State Capitol
Albany NY, 12224
Phone: (518) 474-8390
Fax: (518) 474-1513
E-mail: gov.pataki@chamber.state.ny.us

Erin M. Crotty, Commissioner
New York Department of Environmental Conservation
625 Broadway
Albany, NY 12233-1011
Telephone: (518) 402-8540
Fax: (518) 402-8541

NORTH CAROLINA:

Governor Mike Easley
Office of the Governor
20301 MSC
Raleigh, NC 27699-0301
Telephone: (919) 733-4240
Fax: (919) 733-2120

Charles Fullwood, Director
North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
1701 MSC
Raleigh NC 27699-1701
PHONE (919) 733-3391
FAX (919) 733-7083
charles.fullwood@ncwildlife.org

WEST VIRGINIA:

Goveror Bob Wise
1900 Kanawha Boulevard, E.
Charleston, WV 25305
Telephone 1-888-438-2731
Fax 1-304 342-7025

Ed Hamrick, Director
West Virginia Division of Natural Resources
State Capitol
Building 3, Room 669
Charleston WV 25305
Telephone: (304) 558-2754
Fax: (304) 558-2768
E-mail: ehamrick@dnr.state.wv.us

VERMONT:

Governor James Douglas
109 State Street, Pavilion
Montpelier, VT 05663
Telephone (802) 828-3333
Fax (802) 828-3339

Wayne Laroche, Commissioner
Vermont Dept. of Fish and Wildlife
10 South Building
103 South Main Street
Waterbury, Vermont 05671-0501
Telephone: 802-241-3730
Fax: (802) 241-3295
E-mail: jerri.lamson@anrmail.state.vt.us

RHODE ISLAND:

Governor Donald L. Carcieri
Office of the Governor
State House, Room 115
Providence RI 02903
Telephone (401) 222-2080
Fax (401) 222-8096
E-mail rigov@gov.state.ri.us

John Stolgitis, Chief
Department of Environmental Management
Division of Fish and Wildlife
Stedman Government Center
4808 Tower Hill Road
Wakefield, RI 02879
Phone: (401) 789-8906
Fax: (401) 783-4460
jthurston@dem.state.ri.us

The following state wildlife agencies support Mute Swan shooting:

CONNECTICUT:

Governor John Rowland
Governor's Office
State Capitol
210 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106
Telephone: (860) 566-4840
Fax (860) 524-7396
E-mail: Governor.Rowland@po.state.ct.us

Dale May, Director
Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, Wildlife Division
79 Elm Street
Hartford, CT 06106-5127
Phone: (860) 424-3011
Fax (860) 424 4078
E-mail: dale.may@po.state.ct.us

MAINE:

Governor John Baldacci
State House Station #1
Augusta, ME 04330
Telephone: (207) 287-3531
Fax: (207) 287-1034
E-mail: governor@state.me.us

Roland D. Martin, Commissioner
Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
284 State Street
41 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333-0041
(207) 287-5202
(207) 287-6395
E-mail: r.dan.martin@maine.gov

SOUTH CAROLINA:

Governor Mark Sanford
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12267
Columbia, SC 29211
Telephone: 803-734-2100
Fax: 803-734-5167

John Frampton, Director
South Carolina Dept.of Natural Resources
P O Box 167
Columbia, SC 29202
Telephone: (803) 734-4007
Fax (803) 734-6310
E-mail: framptonj@scdnr.state.sc.us

IDAHO:

Governor Dirk Kempthorne
Office of the Governor
700 West Jefferson
Boise, Idaho 83702
Telephone (208) 334-2100
Fax (208) 334-2175

Steven Huffaker, Director
Idaho Department of Fish and Game
600 S. Walnut
P.O. Box 25, Boise, ID 83707
Telephone: (208) 334-3700
Fax: (208) 334-2114
E-mail: shuffaker@idfg.state.id.us

The following did not submit comments to Fish and Wildlife’s document but have Mute Swan populations in their states:

NEW JERSEY:

Governor James McGreevey
P.O. Box 001
125 West State St.
Trenton, NJ 08625
Telephone: (609) 292-6000
Fax: (609) 292-3454

Bradley M. Campbell, Commissioner
New Jersey Dept. of Environmental Protection
P.O. Box 402
401 E. State St.
Trenton, NJ 08625
Telephone: (609) 292-2885
Fax: (609) 292-7695
E-mail: bradley.campbell@dep.state.nj.us

MASSACHUSETTS:

Governor Mitt Romney
State House
Room 360
Boston, MA 02133
Phone: (617) 725-4005
Fax: (617) 727-9725

Wayne MacCallum, Director
Division of Fisheries & Wildlife
Field Headquarters, 1 Rabbit Hill Rd
Westborough, MA 01581
Telephone: (508) 792-7270
Fax: (508) 792-7275
E-mail: wayne.maccallum@state.ma.us

NEW HAMPSHIRE:

Governor Craig Benson 25 Capitol Street
Concord, NH 03301
Telephone: (603) 271-2121
Fax: (603) 271-7680
E-mail: benson@nh.gov

Lee Perry, Director
New Hampshire Fish and Game Department
11 Hazen Drive
Concord, NH 03301
Telephone: (603) 271-3511
Fax: (603) 271-1438
E-mail: director@wildlife.state.nh.us

It's not only those state and federal agents whose offices are supported by hunters and fishers that are pro-swan killing; there are plenty of animal and environmental groups that want to get rid of the Mute Swans as well. Defenders of Wildlife, the National Audubon Society, the American Bird Conservancy and more, (see below) have expressed that they support the Mute Swan shooting. If you are a member of one of these organizations, let their leadership know where you stand on the Mute Swan issue and encourage them to do some more research into the issues behind their support of this murderous policy.

The following national organizations supported Mute Swan shooting:
American Bird Conservancy
Defenders of Wildlife
Safari Club International
Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen
Hunters for the Hungry
National Audubon Society
The Waterbird Society (Smithsonian Institute, Natural History Museum)
Izaack Walton League of America
Environmental Defense
Ducks Unlimited
Delta Waterfowl
Wildlife Management Institute
Audubon Naturalist Society of Central Atlantic States
South River Federation
Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen
The Ornithological Council

The following state organizations or regional chapters supported Mute Swan shooting:
Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (NY)
Maryland Ornithological Society (MD)
Cooper Ornithological Society (IA)
Massachusetts Audubon (MA)
Audubon Pennsylvania (PA)
DelMarva Ornithological Society (DE)
New Jersey Audubon (NJ)
Tennessee Ornithological Society (TN)
Madison Audubon Council (WI)
Wisconsin Audubon Council (WI)
Green Rock Audubon Society (WI)
Archbold Biological Station (FL)
Audubon Pennsylvania (PA)
Illinois Audubon Society (IL)
Riveredge Bird Club (WI)
Chappie Rapids Audubon (WI)
Atlanta Audubon (GA)
Georgia Ornithological Society (GA)

Starre Vartan

Act•ionLine Autumn 2003

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