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by Edita Birnkrant | Magazine

FoA to DEC: Hands Off Our Swans

 IN DECEMBER OF 2013 THE NY DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION (DEC) DECLARED ITS INTENT TO WIPE OUT THE SPECIES OF MUTE SWANS, TOTALING 2,200, IN NEW YORK AND TO OFFICIALLY CLASSIFY THEM AS A “PROHIBITED SPECIES.” FRIENDS OF ANIMALS RESPONSE TO THIS SWANICIDE SCHEME? HELL, NO.

                                

It’s unthinkable that New Yorkers and tourists would no longer be able to visit parks, lakes and other areas to observe and admire these elegant birds that have been beloved by the public since the 1800s. A park I frequent in my Queens neighborhood has a pair of mute swans that co-exist peacefully with Canada geese and ducks and I’m continually thrilled by the sight of the snow white, long-necked, graceful birds gliding along the lake. 

A New York without mute swans would not happen on our watch. As soon as we heard about the plan we demanded the DEC replace its swan eradication proposal with legal protections that would instead allow New York residents to live in harmony with these treasured birds.

We rallied ornithologists, our members and other activists to vigorously oppose the DEC’s crazed plan. In the DEC’s preposterous Draft Management Plan for Mute Swans in New York State, the agency tries to justify this potential killing spree by claiming swans can cause a variety of problems in spite of their small numbers, which only equal about one half of one percent of all waterfowl in New York. It claims the problems include aggressive behavior towards people, destruction of submerged aquatic vegetation SAV, displacement of native wildlife species, degradation of water quality and potential hazards to aviation—yet offers no demonstrable evidence of these absurd claims.

DEC’s flimsy attempt to blame 2,200 mute swans for causing significant environmental damage throughout all of New York lacks scientific evidence. While the diet of mute swans consists of SAV, studies have shown that runoff from fertilizers, pesticides and animal waste contribute significantly to the loss of SAV in other areas, like the Chesapeake Bay. 

As the backlash against the plan intensified, we recognized the need for legislative action to ensure it was struck down. We contacted New York State Senator Tony Avella, a longtime defender of animal issues, and urged him to introduce legislation. With input from FoA and ornithologists, Avella introduced Senate Bill #6589 on Feb. 10, boosting the campaign to save the swans and garnering much media attention.

Avella said, “I was horrified to learn that our state wildlife agency would make such an extreme, unfounded proposal, and do not believe that the DEC has provided evidence to justify the elimination of these beautiful swans…In addition to imposing a two-year moratorium, my bill requires DEC to illustrate the necessity of eradicating this non-native species by demonstrating the actual damage to the environment or other species caused by mute swans. We should be researching ways of how to protect these birds, not eradicate them.”

DEC caved under the pressure and said they would scrap the plan and release a “revised plan” in the Spring of 2014 followed by another 30-day comment period for the public to weigh in. DEC admitted receiving more than 1,500 comments from individuals and organizations, including FoA’s official statement, 16,000 letters and 50,000 signatures via petitions in opposition of the swan kill plan. 

By the time this article appears in Action Line, the DEC’s revised plan will have been released. We are committed to rejecting any new DEC proposal that pushes forth a control scheme that manages swans to extinction—denying these beautiful birds flight, families and the right to live in nature.  

We restated this commitment with Avella at a press conference in Albany on March 12. Our goal is full protection for NY’s mute swans and we intend to make sure that not a single mute swan is killed or harassed nor a single swan egg destroyed or sterilized. FoA is also requesting that Governor Andrew Cuomo issue a New York state proclamation to recognize an official “Swan Appreciation Week.”  NY DEC’s hateful attitudes are out of step with the very residents of New York whose tax dollars fund the agency. 

The DEC has perversely been operating for far too long as if its only duty is to act in the interests of hunters. This swan extermination plan is a dream come true for hunters who overall dislike mute swans because they are not a hunted species and charge mute swans with displacing waterfowl species they can hunt. 

Our ongoing message to the DEC is “Hands off NY’s swans.”  

 
Edita Birnkrant

Act•ionLine Summer 2014

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