2014-02-21 / Top Stories

Bill To Save The Swans

By Dan Guarino


State Senator Tony Avella has introduced a bill to stop the planned DEC slaughter of mute swans in New York. Photo by Dan Guarino State Senator Tony Avella has introduced a bill to stop the planned DEC slaughter of mute swans in New York. Photo by Dan Guarino Across Jamaica Bay the sight of large white mute swans, often gliding along in pairs, has become a familiar and welcome sight to many.

To the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, the same swans are a menace. According to State Senator Tony Avella, the DEC agency claims they pose potential problems for aviation traffic and create problems due to their aggressive behavior and destruction of underwater vegetation.

Avella has come out strongly in favor of the swans and has introduced legislation which would place a two-year moratorium on the plan by DEC to eradicate all 2,200 wild mute swans in the state by 2025 and declare them a ‘prohibited invasive species.’

The bill, S.6589, filed on February 10th, also requires DEC to demonstrate that actual damage to the environment or other species has been caused by the mute swan population across the state.

According to the senator, the DEC has offered no “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,” he noted, “many New Yorkers do not want to see mute swans eliminated and animal advocacy organizations, wildlife experts, rehabilitators and others have also joined the chorus of opposition.”

The animal rights organization Friends of Animals has been working to oppose the DEC plan since it was announced in December. Avella’s office cites their opinion that the “DEC tries to justify the eradication by claiming that the swans can cause a variety of problems in spite of their small numbers, which equal to about one half of one percent of all waterfowl in New York.” Yet it offers no evidence to support their claims, raising a number of concerns for the community and animal rights advocates.

Friends of Animals’ NY Director Edita Birnkrant stated, “Our New York office has been swamped with phone calls and emails from frantic New York residents horrified that mute swans may be wiped out completely. DEC’s hateful attitudes towards mute swans must be reversed—they are out of step with the very residents of New York whose tax dollars fund the agency.”

Avella also quoted Donald S. Heintzelman, ornithologist, author and authority on Northern migratory swans and mute swans as saying, “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.”

“Furthermore, arguments that mute swans are aggressive,” according to Heintzelman, “and also consume large amounts of submerged aquatic vegetation, are greatly overblown—and represent bad science.”

Imported from Europe to America in the late 1800’s to stock private ponds, the species is now most often found in the Lower Hudson Valley and Long Island and now Lake Ontario. The name “mute swans” refers to them being less vocal than other types of swans. They are not actually soundless.

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