By Nicole Rivard
While we appreciate any newspaper’s attempt to educate the public about wildlife, in the case of mute swans, we are concerned that the Bulletin’s editorial (“Swan defenders won’t be satisfied,” Aug. 3) and Bob Sampson’s anti-swan column (“While beautiful, swans can be dangerous,” Aug. 4) send the wrong message to recreationalists who have been misinformed for far too long.
Saying it is acceptable for mute swans to be slaughtered because of negative ecological impacts is toxic and perpetuates the idea among boaters and other outdoor enthusiasts that although mute swans are stunning, they are no more than picturesque pests that are better off dead.
It also gives credit to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for having objectivity, but we know this is not the case because some agency bureaucrats have schemed to make swans a bird that could be hunted since 1981. DEEP has provided no evidence that the mute swan population in Connecticut is anything but stable — 1,000 to 1,400 birds since the 1990s. However, Connecticut’s human population grew from 3.4 million in 2000 to 3.6 million in 2014, whopping growth of nearly 200,000 people.
The myth that mute swans cause significant environmental damage here — which Sampson, not surprisingly, supports since he’s a proponent of a swan hunting season — lacks scientific evidence and distracts the public from environmental degradation caused by humans. While the diet of mute swans consists of sub-aquatic vegetation (SAV), recent 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.
In New York for example, where Friends of Animals has helped stall the Department of Environmental Conservation’s mute swan wipe-out plan, mute swans constitute only about one half of 1 percent of the approximately 400,000 waterfowl in New York, and the nearly half a million waterfowl also consume aquatic vegetation, so killing a relatively small population of mute swans will not contribute significantly to SAV recovery. But humans changing their behavior and not using dangerous pesticides or participating in animal agriculture could make a difference.
Likewise, recreationalists could make a difference if they change their behavior and keep their distance from nesting sites and when they see adults with young birds. Mute swans are not aggressive birds, but when they are nesting or defending young, they become protective parents, which should be admirable to humans. DEEP needs to immediately post signs near mute swan nesting sites. We have already reached out to DEEP to help them rewrite their web page about mute swans since much of the information is dead wrong.
The assertion that swans have a negative impact on other waterfowl is also groundless. If there are problems for native waterfowl it’s from loss of habitat caused by human overpopulation and hunting. Unfortunately, DEEP often caters to waterfowl hunters, and the agency’s strategy involves maligning swans to convince the public that they are out of control.
We and our 3,100 Connecticut members are grateful to the Killingly community and state Rep. Christine Rosati Randall, D-Killingly, for defending Connecticut mute swans. No sane bird lover in Connecticut would agree with DEEP’s decision to kill the mute swan in Killingly April 20 simply because he was being a good parent. (It’s ironic that Sampson touts his own fatherly instincts to protect his daughter from a mute swan, but when it tried to protect its young from Sampson, Sampson harassed and molested the bird.)
DEEP claims on its website that public opinion is in favor of “swan control” to protect the state’s natural ecosystems, according to a survey taken in the 1990s. It’s obvious that poll, like the agency’s web page on mute swans, is outdated.