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Suffolk Closeup: The state’s war on mute swans

JIM COLLIGAN PHOTO
JIM COLLIGAN PHOTO

“I’d like to see them abandon this task that they are compelled to do,” said State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) last week about a revised plan by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to go after mute swans, possibly killing some of the birds.

“The DEC should abandon this as not necessary,” said Mr. Thiele, whose district includes Shelter Island. “Their rationale to justify this makes no sense whatsoever.”

With the revised plan, the assemblyman said, “the DEC is putting lipstick on a pig.”

Three years ago, the DEC unveiled an outrageous plan to kill many of the 2,200 mute swans in the state. Most of the beautiful and graceful birds, about 1,600, are on Long Island.

In advancing the plan to slaughter the elegant birds, the DEC claimed that they were an “invasive” species and should be destroyed. The reaction to the scheme by the public, environmentalists and members of the New York State Legislature — Mr. Thiele and many other state lawmakers — was loud and intense.

“Real stupid” said Larry Penny, a Long Island naturalist and formerly the East Hampton Town director of natural resources and environmental preservation. Of swans being “invasive,” he said: “Nonsense.” They were brought to North America from Europe after the Civil War and “they’re not doing any harm,” Mr. Penny said. Also, there “are natural checks on their population — raccoons and foxes take them. They’re subject to a lot of pressure.”

The State Legislature in 2014 and 2015 overwhelmingly passed bills to block the DEC’s kill-the-swans plan. But Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed each of the measures.

Last year, he finally signed a measure requiring the DEC to provide more scientific justification for going after the swans, minimizing killing them and holding public hearings before moving ahead.

The just-released revised plan says the DEC will keep the population of mute swans downstate the size it is now. Eggs would be prevented from hatching through a process called “egg-addling,” which involves coating the eggs with corn oil. Upstate, the number of mute swans would be reduced each year.

The plan says “non-lethal” means would be used upstate, if possible. “Less than 100” mute swans “annually” would be captured upstate and sent to “DEC-licensed facilities,” but if captures can’t be accomplished, the upstate mute swans would be killed. Also, the “DEC will evaluate the pros and cons of allowing waterfowl hunters to take mute swans.”

The DEC calls this a “regionalized approach.” Says the plan: “Downstate, where mute swans have existed in a wild state for many decades, the DEC will work with cooperators conducting non-lethal mute swan control activities to minimize population growth in the region, primarily through egg-addling.

“Upstate, where the range expansion and introduction is more recent, DEC will be pro-active to mitigate the environmental impact of feral mute swans by preventing range expansion reducing or stabilizing the overall population over the next six years with an emphasis on non-lethal removal and nest treatments. Every effort will be made to use non-lethal management techniques, however, where necessary mute swans will be lethally removed.”

For both upstate and downstate, “DEC will consider statewide regulations to prohibit the intentional feeding of wild mute swans and other waterfowl, similar to what was enacted to prohibit the feeding of bears in New York.”

The new — and still outrageous — 19-page plan is on the DEC website:dec.ny.gov/docs/wildlife.
In addition to the three public hearings, people can send written comments on the DEC scheme to: Bureau of Wildlife, Mute Swan Plan, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233 or email comments to [email protected] and include on the subject line: “Mute Swan Plan.”

Assemblyman Thiele said once the State Legislature reconvenes in January, lawmakers will consider the new DEC mute swan plan.

A DEC press release posted at dec.ny.gov/press says: “Mute swans are likely to remain in most areas of Long Island, New York City, and the lower Hudson Valley where they have been seen for many years, but DEC will encourage non-lethal population controls to protect local wildlife and habitats and will authorize control measures to ensure that mute swans do not interfere with human interests.”

DEC Commissioner Basil Segos is quoted as saying: “DEC’s revised draft management plan is responsive to the public’s concerns about complete elimination of mute swans from New York.”

Doesn’t the DEC have anything better to do?