Friends of Animals’ Public Testimony on Behalf of New York’s Mute Swans

Testimony by Priscilla Feral, president Friends of Animals

Numbers don’t lie.  

Business is down for the DEC, and the pro-hunting agency is desperate.  New York is no longer one of the nation’s top five hunting states.  Numbers of hunters nationwide have fallen to 5%, yet in New York, hunters number only 2.8% of residents – and the majority of those shooters who want “one more bird for the bag” live upstate.

Most mute swans reside downstate.  There are 44,800 migratory bird hunters in NY—a minority of  .23% of NY residents—inclined to shoot geese, ducks or swans to death. Only 1,700 mute swans were counted in NY last year. Those swans constitute less than one-quarter of 1% of the 502,336 waterfowl counted in 2016, yet they’re vilified by DEC.

Ducks, geese and other swans also consume aquatic vegetation—yet DEC reserves its hostility for the not hunted mute swan—declaring them undesirable, too numerous and gluttonous—tearing up and gulping down copious pounds of aquatic vegetation.  Friends of Animals knows this is a ploy by hunters to increase the population of hunted ducks.

Over-looked are the state’s wildlife-watchers who number at least 35% of residents (according to the 2016 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Svc. Survey), and we wonder why we’re left having to make a case against the DEC’s new plan, when they don’t have a case and are outnumbered by those who appreciate that mute swans are protective parents, harm no one, and bring joy wherever they grace our parks, lakes and other waterways.

Clearly, DEC’s brand of mute swan education hopes to turn swan-watchers into haters.  That won’t happen.

DEC fails to admit that loss of aquatic vegetation has to do with runoff containing significant concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers, pesticides, and industrial and animal waste.  Officials must upgrade sewage treatment plants that are overwhelmed by storm runoff, and curb pollution of waterways rather than scapegoating mute swans.

That mute swans are a non-native species is irrelevant.  As the famous, late ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson said in Connecticut:

“A plan to addle swan eggs is an outrage.  The assertion that swans are destroying habitat and affecting other waterfowl is groundless.  The major factors in the decline of duck populations are drought in the Midwest and destruction of wetlands, not mute swans.  Swans provide so much pleasure to so many people, and to destroy them would be a tragedy.”

Friends of Animals echoes Mr. Peterson’s informed views. And, we vigorously object to DEC’s proposal to control swans by molesting 100 of their nests downstate each year, and killing or removing 100 other swans each year upstate to supposedly make room for waterfowl craved by less than 1% of New York’s 19.75 million residents.

Testimony by Nicole Rivard, correspondent/editor, Friends of Animals

According to the New York DEC’s own data included in the latest version of its mute swan management plan, the mute swan population has dropped a whopping 23 percent, from 2,200 in 2013 to 1,686 in 2015.

This flies in the face of the DEC’s so-called sound science in the draft that mute swan populations grow 10-18 percent each year. So much for the agency’s proposed mute swan Armageddon. By the way, approximately 19.5 million humans live in New York.

DEC will stop at nothing to blame mute swans for damage to the environment and other species so they can be eradicated to make room for other waterfowl craved by hunters, which the DEC treats as clients.

The DEC points its finger at mute swans for destroying submerged aquatic vegetation beds important for sustaining species of conservation concern—including black duck, canvasback and Atlantic brant. The DEC neglects to mention it allows hunters to blow the heads off all of these species of concern. Furthermore, for the first time in 30 years, black duck hunters will have an opportunity for a 2-black duck daily bag limit in 2017 instead of one.

The DEC also tries to blame mute swans for the abandonment of colonies in other states of least terns and black skimmers, two species of conservation concern in New York. But the agency conveniently leaves out that its own black tern surveys have found that habitat is compromised by agricultural run-off, pollution, residential and commercial development and recreational watercraft disturbance.

What is so insulting about this third draft is that last November Gov. Cuomo signed into law legislation, which Friends of Animals provided input on, that put a 2-year moratorium on any management plan and required DEC to demonstrate mute swans have caused actual damage to the environment or other species.

But once again there is no conclusive scientific evidence. In defending its latest draft the agency says, “we disagree that further research is needed. Such research would be extremely expensive if required to evaluate each site-specific situation.”

What can be concluded is that the NYDEC thinks it’s above the law.