We have a huge cheer for New York State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Queens) and Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach) for demanding answers from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) following two disturbing recent swan-related incidents.

According to Kings County Politics, last week a family of mute swans in upstate Oneida was killed by U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife staff after a kayaker complained to state DEC about an “aggressive” male swan. The two adults were shot and the four cygnets were captured and intentionally drowned. In Brooklyn, the seven swans that make their home in Prospect Park Lake have been missing since June 2, according to signs posted this week.

Cymbrowitz and Avella sponsored legislation to protect New York’s mute swans from extermination, with input from Friends of Animals, which was signed into law in 2016. The law established a two-year moratorium on the DEC’s controversial mute swan management plan—which was basically a government sanctioned death sentence. The law also requires DEC to demonstrate that the swans have caused actual damage to the environment or to other species, including humans. 

In letters to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, Cymbrowitz and Avella expressed their outrage that DEC is deliberately getting around the no-kill law by directing a federal agency to kill mute swans on its behalf.

“As the prime Assembly sponsor of the legislation, signed into law in 2016, imposing a two-year moratorium on the State’s extermination of mute swans until an acceptable management plan is in place, I find it outrageous that DEC is actively circumventing the ban by enlisting another agency to kill the birds (and in a particularly cruel and reprehensible manner),” Cymbrowitz said. “This deceptive behavior violates the spirit of the moratorium and, equally important, erodes any shred of trust that the public may place in DEC to act appropriately and humanely regarding the mute swans.”

“This method of removal is unacceptable,” Avella wrote. “I would appreciate you reviewing this matter and letting me know why this family of mute swans was murdered.”

Cymbrowitz and Avella noted that their offices are being inundated with letters from outraged people all over the state who are voicing their concern about the swans in Prospect Park and Oneida. “They assumed that the law I authored would keep the mute swans safe, but evidently they were wrong,” Cymbrowitz said.

The lawmakers want answers from DEC on how, and why, the unsanctioned swan killings occurred.

“I would like to know from you exactly who gave permission to USDA to enter the State and kill the family of swans. Additionally, I want to know why the adults and babies weren’t relocated rather than killed, and why an isolated report of an aggressive male swan wasn’t investigated thoroughly before it was acted upon, especially since swan attacks on humans are very rare. Finally, I would like your assurance that DEC has no plans to continue circumventing the moratorium that we carefully put in place,” Cymbrowitz said.

Letter to DEC Commissioner Seggos re Lake Oneida Swan Killings