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Winter 2016-17 - Act•ionLine

Death sentence lifted for NY’s mute swans thanks to FoA’s campaign

In December of 2013 the NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) declared its intent to wipe out mute swans by 2025 and to officially classify them as a "prohibited species.
Friends of Animals (FoA) recognized the need for legislative action to halt the plan and contacted NY state Sen. Tony Avella, a longtime defender of animal issues. The legislation he introduced in 2014 with FoA's input and that of ornithologists was finally signed into law by NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Nov. 28, 2016, saving the state’s 2,200 mute swans from a government-sanctioned death sentence.

After being vetoed twice by the governor previously, this is an example of the victories that can be achieved with perseverance and the support of FoA members, who took action and urged the governor to sign the legislation into law.

The law will establish a two-year moratorium on the DEC's controversial 2013 plan, which had been under revision because of backlash from FoA and the public. The law also requires DEC to demonstrate that the swans have caused actual damage to the environment or to other species, including humans. “Since the 1980s we have lobbied in the northeast to protect mute swans from nest destruction, egg addling and hunting, which have all been considered as wildlife ‘management’ schemes. Governors have been deceived by the agencies that come up with these insidious plans that lack scientific evidence,” said Priscilla Feral, president of FoA. “We are ecstatic about this victory and that NYDEC’s hateful attitude towards mute swans has been reversed—it is out of step with the very residents of New York whose tax dollars fund the Agency.” Assemblyman Steve Cymbrowitz was the legislation's House sponsor.

“Friends of Animals is thankful that Sen. Avella responded to our urgent request to file this legislation and that he and Assemblyman Cymbrowitz remained steadfast in getting it passed. We had been swamped with phone calls and emails from frantic New York residents horrified that mute swans may be wiped out completely,” she added.

The DEC tried to justify its potential killing spree by claiming mute swans are aggressive towards people, destroy submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), displace native wildlife species, degrade water quality and are hazards to aviation—yet offered no demonstrable evidence of these absurd claims.

While the diet of mute swans consists of SAV, studies have shown that runoff from fertilizers, pesticides and animal agriculture waste contribute significantly to the loss of SAV in other areas,
like the Chesapeake Bay.


Since mute swans constitute only about one half of one percent of the approximately 400,000 waterfowl in New York counted by the DEC, and the nearly half a million waterfowl also consume aquatic vegetation, killing a relatively small population of mute swans would not contribute significantly to SAV recovery.

“This is a major victory for the mute swans, as well as other animals who may face similar eradication in the future,” said Avella.

“The people have spoken and I’m pleased that the governor has listened,” Cymbrowitz said. “Tens of thousands of New Yorkers signed petitions, sent letters and emails to the governor’s office. People were very vocal about their support of this bill, and I have to believe it made all
the difference."


Act•ionLine Winter 2016-17

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