Southern Brooklyn

Local Pols Introduce Legislation To Protect Swans

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Photo by Brian Hoo

Queens State Senator Tony Avella has introduced a bill that would establish a two-year moratorium on the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s plan to eliminate 2,200 mute swans – the same scenic species that populates Sheepshead Bay’s marina. Local Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz announced today that he will follow suit with an Assembly version, having previously spoken out on the issue.

The Senate bill has been referred to the Senate’s environmental conservation committee.

The news was announced last week in a press release by Friends of Animals, an animal protection organization. From that release:

“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,” Avella said. “The public outcry has been severe—many New York residents do not want to see mute swans eliminated and animal advocacy organizations, wildlife experts, rehabilitators and others have also joined the chorus of opposition.  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.”

… Donald S. Heintzelman, ornithologist, author and authority on Northern migratory swans and mute swans states,  “My professional opinion is that these public disputes about mute swans are overblown and unnecessary. These birds do not cause catastrophic damage, although most state wildlife agencies have engrained in their official mindsets the notion that mute swans should be destroyed merely because they are non-native species that might compete with native tundra swans and more rarely trumpeter swans. In fact, tundra swans very rarely are seen in New York State (and hence are irrelevant to the agencies’ mindsets).

“As for the few trumpeter swans living at two locations in the state, they are geographically far removed from Long Island and thus are not impacted by mute swans on Long Island. Certainly, mute swans are not pushing out New York’s small population of trumpeter swans. Furthermore, arguments that mute swans are aggressive, and also consume large amounts of submerged aquatic vegetation, are greatly overblown—and represent bad science.”

Cymbrowitz’s office issued a release this afternoon confirming that he would be the Assembly sponsor. From their release:

“Wildlife experts and environmentalists are not unanimous in their belief that exterminating the mute swan population is justified, and there’s plenty of debate over whether eradicating mute swans will be even minimally beneficial to the ecosystem or our environment,” Assemblyman Cymbrowitz said. Also, while it makes for a good anecdote, there is evidence that nary a human has been attacked by a mute swan, he said. While the graceful birds may hiss in an effort to protect their young, experts said the swans are rarely if ever moved to unprovoked aggression against people.

He noted that three other states – Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut – currently use non-lethal methods to control their mute swan populations. Only Maryland exterminates the birds, “which demonstrates that the precedent is there for using a humane alternative,” he said.

The community can comment on the DEC’s plan until February 21. To do so, write to: NYSDEC Bureau of Wildlife, Swan Management Plan, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4754 or by e-mail to fwwildlf@gw.dec.state.ny.us (please type “Swan Plan” in the subject line).

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