FoA and Senator Tony Avella Defend Mute Swans

FoA and Senator Tony Avella Defend Mute Swans

Swan fight: Downstate state senator and animal rights advocate defend mute swans

By David Figura | dfigura@syracuse.com 

In response Sennett resident Lance Robson's recent column, “Sportsmen's advocate calls for Gov. Cuomo to veto mute swan bill that protects the birds,” downstate state Sen. Tony Avella, D-Queens, and Friends of Animals' Campaigns Director Edita Birnkrant this week penned a column giving the other side of the issue.

“Robson's request for Governor Cuomo to veto the bill reflects an out-of-touch, intolerant attitude toward a species that residents and the state legislature clearly believe deserve protection,” Avella wrote. ” The public has spoken loud and clear and they want mute swans to stay in New York State.”

The two added:

“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.” 

Robson, of Sennett, is chairman of the state and Region 7 Fish and Wildlife Boards. He sent a letter on Sept. 19 to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, calling for him to veto a bill concerning mute swans that would take steps to protect the birds in this state.

State lawmakers this summer passed legislation that granted the large white birds a two-year reprieve from a state Department of Environmental Conservation plan to eradicate them in New York by 2025.

The bill ( A08790A /S06589A, which Avella sponsored, would also require the DEC to demonstrate that the birds are actually damaging the environment before moving ahead with eradication efforts.

Robson noted mute swans are an invasive species and protecting them would set a bad precedent. The DEC should be allowed to follow through with its initial plan to eliminate them from the state's landscape by 2025.

The birds, brought to this country from Eurasia in the late 1880s for ornamental reasons, are considered an invasive species. DEC wildlife biologists and other experts, including those from the Audubon Society, say they cause a number of problems, including the destruction of underwater plants, the displacement of native wildlife species, the degradation of water quality and potential hazards to aviation.

“What would be next, the protection of Eurasian boar and snakehead fish to appease some other self-appointed species protective group?” said Robson, a past member of the state Conservation Fund Advisory Board.

The full text of Avella and Birnkrant's response follows:

In response to Lance Robson's letter to Governor Cuomo, New York State Senator Tony Avella and Edita Birnkrant, Campaigns Director of Friends of Animals, along with renowned ornithologists and numerous animal advocacy organizations, urge Gov Cuomo to stand up and protect the mute swan and sign bill A08790A/S06589A into law.

Lance Robson's extreme position in favor of virtually wiping out the population of New York State's mute swans is at odds with the residents of New York, the scientific facts as they stand, and the intention of the bill.

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. During the public comment period, thousands spoke out in opposition to the New York Department of Environmental Protection (DEC)'s plan to eliminate this beloved species of waterfowl.

Despite their having been labeled an “invasive species” by the DEC, 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.

These animals have lived in New York's lower Hudson Valley since the late 1800s, and are a valued part of the ecosystem by many New York residents, beautifying lakes, ponds and waterways.

Arguments that mute swans consume large amounts of SAV (submerged aquatic vegetation), are greatly overblown. 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 of only 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.

Robson's request for Governor Cuomo to veto the bill reflects an out-of-touch, intolerant attitude toward a species that residents and the state legislature clearly believe deserve protection. The public has spoken loud and clear and they want mute swans to stay in New York State. Now it's up to Governor Cuomo to sign into law a bill reflecting the will of the people that has passed resoundingly in both houses.

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