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FoA’s official comment on DEC’s plan to eradicate mute swans in New York

February 10, 2014 | Mute Swans

Friends of Animals, (FoA) an international animal advocacy organization founded in New York in 1957, with tens of thousands of New York members, strongly opposes the NY Department of Conservation’s (DEC) Draft Management Plan for Mute Swans in New York State, which calls for the elimination of all free-living mute swans, numbering at 2,200, throughout the state by 2025, and seeks to classify mute swans a “prohibited species.”

This scheme clearly has the backing of the National Rifle Association, which views these lovely birds as little more than trophies for bird hunters.

FoA objects to the call for a mass slaughter of mute swans by shooting, gassing, destruction of eggs and sterilization and to the plan for DEC to "authorize any property owner, land or water management authority, municipality or other responsible party to control or remove mute swans from their property for any reason.” We consider such human aggression anathema to a wildlife agency, which should educate the community about the wonderful opportunities in the state of New York to observe, appreciate and photograph all swans.

In fact, FoA is requesting that Gov. Andrew Cuomo issue a New York state proclamation to recognize March 10-16, 2014, as Swan Appreciation Week. 

Donald S. Heintzelman, ornithologist, author and authority on Northern migratory swans and mute swans is an advisor to FoA and issued the following statement in February of 2014: 

“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 SAV (submerged aquatic vegetation), are greatly overblown—and represent bad science.”   

Attempts by DEC to deflect criticism to the plan by allowing a small number of mute swans to exist in captivity under human ownership are unacceptable and transparently disingenuous when in truth the goal is to wipe out the species in New York.

Dr. William J.L. Sladen, (MB, BS, MD, DPhil, PM. MBE, professor emeritus, Johns Hopkins University Medical Institutions, Baltimore, MD & affiliate professor in biology, George Mason University) one of the world’s leading authorities on Northern migratory swans, insists that mute swans should not be hunted. 

Mute swans are treasured by countless New York residents and tourists who flock to parks and waterways to observe and admire these regal birds gliding across the water. Thousands of FoA’s members and supporters throughout New York State have contacted us and expressed their outrage at the DEC plan to eradicate free-living mute swans in their communities. 

The mute swan was named by the United State government as the International Symbol of Peace in the 1970s, yet in 2014 the same government wants to eradicate the mute swan, for reasons that we find invalid.

The DEC contemptuously classifies mute swans as an “invasive, non-native species” in spite of the fact that they’ve been in New York’s lower Hudson Valley since the 1800s and are a valued part of the ecosystem by many New York residents, beautifying lakes, ponds and waterways.

The population of mute swans in New York has held as stable at around 2,200 for approximately 12 years, especially in regards to their numbers on Long Island, where they are most populous. 

The flimsy attempt to blame 2,200 mute swans for causing significant environmental damage throughout all of New York State is not credible and lacks scientific evidence. On the contrary, human activity involved in contemporary agricultural methods is a much greater hazard to waterways.

While the diet of mute swans consists of SAV, studies have shown that runoff from fertilizers, pesticides and animal 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 will not contribute significantly to SAV recovery.  Indeed, the DEC offers no conclusive evidence pertaining to the effect of SAV, and merely state that the swans “could” affect SAV.

Mute swans exist in other countries including England, Holland and throughout Europe in far greater numbers than in the United States and are not blamed for ecological problems or targeted for extermination.  

In regards to the claims that mute swans negatively impact aviation safety, the facts show that there have been only four reported instances of airplanes striking mute swans in New York since 1990. The Federal Aviation Administration’s Wildlife Strike Database  confirms this exceeding low number, which any reasonable person would agree cannot possibly be used to wipe out an entire species.  

Demonizing mute swans by classifying them as “aggressive” toward humans is a longstanding tactic of government agencies who want to classify a species as game for hunters or who want to make a species they find a nuisance disappear..  Mute swans, like many other species, protect their nests and babies. Educating the public to avoid confronting swans or invading their nesting areas with boats and fish-catching equipment would solve any perceived issues. 



I believe I have also read that the DEC wants to introduce Trumpeter swans to replace the mute swans and allow hunting of these birds which would gain the DEC/gov license fees to do this. So not only is an agency that should be concerned for wildlife welfare looking to eradicate mute swans, it also wants to encourage hunting of a second species. This is disgraceful, dishonest, underhanded. What are humans becoming?

Well said ... As an addendum to your comment about the tundra swans that the DEC somehow sees as a replacement swan: "In fact, tundra swans very rarely are seen in New York State (and hence are irrelevant to the agencies’ mindsets)." It should be noted that it would indeed become relevant if Tundra swans were introduced ... especially to the Long Island region. of note unlike the purely vegetarian Mute Swan .... Tundras also eat small amounts of animal matter consisting mainly of the larvae of aquatic beetles and dragon flies, worms and are also reported to eat shellfish and are developing an increasing taste for grains and corn found in farmland areas. Which I am SURE the already suffering shell fishing industry on Long Island and Long Island corn farmers would find alarming. While native to North America Tundras ARE NOT NATIVE to Long Island and Tundras would pose a longer list of POTENTIAL problems than Mute Swans pose.
and as for their list of "potential" problems they already had ten years to prove out their claims of potential damage and have not been able to substantiate even one let alone to a level that would call for the slaughter of an entire species.
The suggestion that Tundra swans be introduced as a replacement to satisfy the public's need to see swans is just as ill thought out (or is a disguised thought process) as is the rest of the DEC plan to completely wipe out the NY population. By admission in their own reports the mute swan population is stable or actually on a decline in most NY regions and the only growth is shown to be from swans that are migrating from Ontario. The very loose language in the DEC "plan" cannot gloss over the fact that this a region in which they have no jurisdiction or control and Ontario has so far shown absolutely no inclination to use ANY population control. So, if that is where the growth problem is mainly coming from as is documented in their report why is their plan calling for starting on Long Island?
Clearly ANY population control is all a waste of our tax dollars (Salaries, offices, motor and water vehicles, gas etc). we have already wasted enough human and financial resources which could certainly be put to better use than the slaughter and extinction of a beautiful and well loved species that has become iconic to our region and is depicted in many NY artist forums that would actually also feel the economic impact of their loss.

A no kill policy must be adopted. Do not kill any type of swans - it should be illegal.

Department of Conservation? What an oxymoron! More like Department of Eradication. Why do something destructive and cruel? Are you trying to justify your existence? Slow day at the office? Why not put it to the people, and see where the would like to spend their hard earned taxes?

Killing is never a viable solution. You can do better !

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