Local pols and activists cry foul on DEC plan to “eliminate” mute swans

February 20, 2014 Heather Chin
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There will be no swan song for New York’s mute swan population if Brooklyn and New York politicians and activists have anything to say about it.

Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz of Sheepshead Bay—where the graceful, largely silent swans have been a familiar and fond fixture in the waterfront community for decades—has introduced legislation (A.8790) that would place a two-year ban on the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) plan to label mute swans as a “prohibited invasive species” and then exterminate them all by the year 2025.

His bill joins State Senator Tony Avella’s Senate bill (S.6589) in calling for the DEC to “examine the issue further” and consider “using a humane alternative” such as those practiced by the states of Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

These bills are just the latest in a massive public outcry following the DEC’s January 16 release of “draft species management plans” for New York’s mute swan and black bear populations.

“Being a non-native species does not equal being invasive,” said David Karopkin, Brooklynite and founder of GooseWatch NYC, which launched a petition against the planned slaughter that had drawn nearly 25,000 signatures as of publication. “We want to have a public convo about this but should also protect, not draw up plans to kill them.”

Added Cymbrowitz, “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.”

Although the proposal for the black bears included expanding bear-hunting opportunities upstate in an effort to maintain publicly-acceptable bear population levels and minimize human-bear conflicts, it was the DEC’s plan to “eliminate free-ranging mute swans” and only allow “responsible ownership of these birds in captivity” that really triggered indignation from animal rights activists and local residents alike.

“Many people are tired of this idea that we can just kill wildlife based on nuisance or inconvenience without consideration for the wildlife,” said Karopkin.

The DEC defended the proposed plans in its proposal, stating that mute swans “can cause a variety of problems, including exhibiting aggressive behavior towards people, destruction of submerged aquatic vegetation, displacement of native wildlife species, degradation of water quality and potential hazards to aviation.”

While “wildlife management can present challenges in trying to balance populations, hunting opportunities and environmental impacts,” said DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens, “these plans will guide the management of these species for the next 10 years.”

The public comment period for feedback on the plans ends on Friday, February 21. Comments can be submitted by email to [email protected] or in writing to NYSDEC Bureau of Wildlife, Swan Management Plan, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4754.

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