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Mar 10, 2015 3:36 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

DEC Rolls Out New Plan For Dealing With Mute Swans

Mar 10, 2015 4:36 PM

In response to public backlash to its proposal last year to eradicate mute swans, the State Department of Environmental Conservation this week rolled out a new policy to deal with the birds on Long Island and elsewhere in the state—one that is less focused on slaughtering them.

While the original plan allowed for the capture or killing of all free-range mute swans, with the goal of eliminating every mute swan in the state by 2025, the new proposal, which was announced Monday, has a more nuanced approach that emphasizes education and regional handling of the issue, and targets the impact of the swans rather than the animals themselves.

However, killing the swans is still an option in the new plan, albeit one reserved primarily for state-maintained lands and situations where the birds are considered an imminent threat to public safety—such as airports—or the local ecosystem. The new plan, however, no longer specifies a deadline for elimination of the species, as the original plan did.

Known to frequent prominent local bodies of water, such as Town Pond in East Hampton Village and Lake Agawam in Southampton Village, and making the occasional appearances on the bays of western Southampton Town, mute swans are both spectacles and menaces on the South Fork. There are roughly 300 mute swans in Southampton and East Hampton towns, DEC spokesman Bill Fonda said.

They are a non-native species in New York, according to the DEC. Mute swans were first brought here from Europe in the late 1800s and were used to beautify private estates on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley.

Over time, the birds have gotten loose and populated their surrounding areas, which has become problematic, because they are over-consuming and destroying underwater vegetation that supports marine life and sustains other species of waterfowl, including black ducks, canvasbacks and Atlantic brants. Mute swans are also known for being aggressive and killing other birds, according to the DEC, and even attacking humans.

The new plan focuses on population control and encourages non-lethal measures, such as targeting eggs, discouraging nesting, regulating more strictly who can own mute swans and how they are kept in captivity, and interfering with breeding, or neutering, which would be performed while the swans are in captivity. The DEC is hoping to partner with local municipalities and non-governmental organizations to empower them to take the reins on the issue.

“I’m glad, number one, that they’ve changed the report in response to the public outcry,” Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said. “I’m going to reserve my decision on the report as a whole, but I do think the DEC made a good-faith effort to address public concerns.”

Mr. Thiele, along with Senator Kenneth LaValle, both of whom represent the East End, introduced bills into their respective legislative houses in 2014 seeking a moratorium on the proposed eradication of the swans. Although both the Assembly and the Senate approved the bill that Mr. Thiele helped introduce, Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed it last year. Mr. Thiele said he reintroduced the bill earlier this year, but he doesn’t expect any action to be taken on it until after the state’s budget is finalized.

The state also is pushing for the swans to be managed regionally, differentiating between upstate and downstate methods. For example, the DEC said shooting free-ranging mute swans would be more applicable upstate, where the emphasis is on preventing the birds from creating a solid foothold.

When the idea of curtailing the swan population was first raised in January 2014, the Eastern Long Island Audubon Society was split on the issue. “We decided to step back and let individual members take their own stances,” Eileen Schwinn, the group’s vice president, said Tuesday morning. “We, as a group, didn’t come to an endorsement or a condemnation of the plan.”

Likewise, she said, the group still has not formed a collective opinion on the new plan, although that is primarily because they haven’t had a chance to discuss it at a meeting.

Byron Young, the group’s president, said any plan where more options are provided beyond simply killing the birds is a plus.

“The issues were voluminous,” Mr. Young said of the first plan. “It was not well put together—it called for the complete extermination of mute swans, which we did not support.”

During the past three decades, mute swans have come to populate portions of upstate New York near Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes, many of them flying over from Canada and causing similar issues as the downstate swans. There are approximately 200 mute swans upstate, compared to more than 2,000 on Long Island, in New York City and in the Hudson Valley.

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Leave the swans alone.
By April1 (156), Southampton on Mar 10, 15 10:37 PM
2 members liked this comment
Why? Can you not admit that they do ecological damage and that they are not native with few to no predators?
By Nature (2966), Southampton on Mar 11, 15 9:08 AM
1 member liked this comment
Yes, leave the swans alone! Let them keep destroying the bays! We hate our bays anyway.

"Over time, the birds have gotten loose and populated their surrounding areas, which has become problematic, because they are over-consuming and destroying underwater vegetation that supports marine life and sustains other species of waterfowl, including black ducks, canvasbacks and Atlantic brants. Mute swans are also known for being aggressive and killing other birds, according to the DEC, and even ...more
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (747), southampton on Mar 11, 15 7:37 AM
3 members liked this comment
Humans are overconsuming, polluting and destroying... and we are the ones that brought the swans here. Perhaps it's not the swans that need to be eradicated...
By eagleeye (82), Sag Harbor on Mar 11, 15 1:26 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By angelin68, centereach on Mar 11, 15 9:11 PM
Here's the bottom line, the DEC must not be allowed to employ "killing" as part of its swan management program. When it acknowledges that limitation, and gets back to us with a plan that, specifically, EXCLUDES the concept, we will pay attention to its proposal.

I cannot recall another occasion in which a public agency has shown itself to be so determinedly tone-deaf to the wishes of the commonweal. If the functionaries of the DEC are so single-mindedly dedicated to the killing of swans, ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Mar 12, 15 4:43 AM
1 member liked this comment
Ok - what if we don't "kill them" but instead addle their eggs so they have no viable offspring and the population dies out (or is significantly reduced). Is that ok?

(and remind me again... are you a vegetarian, vegan...? piscavore?)
By Nature (2966), Southampton on Mar 12, 15 9:37 AM
Perhaps we need to relocate the swans to your back yard. Let them drop their fecal matter where you live. DEC tone deaf ... not at all, they are listening to the hundreds of thousands of parents who's children can no longer play in ball fields. They are listening to the fisherman who are seeing their harvest shrink. Enough is enough ... these vermin need to be removed, once and for all.
By jediscuba (71), Bayside on Mar 12, 15 2:50 PM
eh... while I agree with your overall point, swan don't eat fish (well, VERY rarely) and they don't infest "ball fields".
By Nature (2966), Southampton on Mar 12, 15 4:20 PM
#swanmanagement
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (747), southampton on Mar 12, 15 7:49 AM
Swans are non-native species and should be removed from LI.

HighHat do you kill Gypsy moths? They are also a non-native species introduced by man also. If you do why?

Why are the swans different than the moths? Is it because the softheaded emotional responses of some that call them beautiful and demand they remain at the expense of the other native species?

If we have an opportunity to undo the mistakes people have made with regard to the animal populations on LI why ...more
By Baymen87 (135), Lugoff, SC on Mar 12, 15 8:34 AM
1 member liked this comment
A bit harsh since "city people" provide most of your economy, martinspike.
By George Lynes (3), East Quogue on Mar 12, 15 1:27 PM
Not really, but my grammar is a bit better than yours which ain't "to" (sic) great.
By George Lynes (3), East Quogue on Mar 12, 15 4:12 PM
The Regal Swan Foundation opposes this Bait and, Switch plan. The DEC seems to have started from the worse case scenario to we'll try to appease everyone by stating that it will now be a regional control. Ultimately, this plan is still the same plan based upon no scientific justification for killing or controlling any Mute Swan. No current research showing that the Mute Swans Are NOT invasive but rather a Sentinel species was considered. International Swan and wetland habitat researchers met in ...more
By ShirleyBolin (6), on Mar 12, 15 1:38 PM
If the DEC is so worried about a non native invasive species, why are they not stopping the release of Asian Pheasants that began on Gardner Island in 1892 and continues today? That's right, the NY DEC maintains, a game facility E Reynolds that introduced a new hybrid from Asia in the 90's for hunting purposes. This ring necked pheasant has been shown to displace the endangered native Prairie Chicken and displace other native birds by laying their eggs in other bird nests. Furthermore, the farm ...more
By ShirleyBolin (6), on Mar 12, 15 2:22 PM
Ummm.... it's not a problem in Sweden because the mute swan is native to Sweden and Europe. That would be like saying there are a lot of Bison in yellowstone and they are considered a keystone species there - so if they were in Sweden it would be OK.

Also, Ring-necked pheasants aren't invasive (simply non-native) and there are no Prairie Chickens on Long Island.
By Nature (2966), Southampton on Mar 12, 15 6:45 PM
These animals are not welcome anywhere in the USA. Their droppings pollute waterways and playing fields. Some ball fields in the NYC and Long Island area are so strewn with fecal matter that they are no longer fit or safe for children to play in. These birds are not natural to our region. I for one would like to totally eradicate their population. Some communities have questioned whether these animals might be a food source for the poor. I've heard that the Food and Drug Administration was vocal ...more
By jediscuba (71), Bayside on Mar 12, 15 2:46 PM
to jediscuba:

You have conflated mute swans with Canada geese. Nothing that you have said is relevant to the former species. Your discursive comments are equally ill-informed.

to Nature:

Personally, I have not observed there to be any problem with mute swans. However, if exhaustive research (currently absent) shows them to be the danger that the DEC imagines, then addling eggs in the earlier stages of gestation would be an acceptable means of population control. Killing ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Mar 13, 15 4:07 AM
1 member liked this comment
I ask because I want to gauge potential hypocrisy. I'm sure someone who is mentally proficient like you can see the relation.

Do some research on Mute Swan control in Michigan - you will be enlightened.

Google "Why are Mute Swans are problem" and check out the links from Michigan and Maryland
By Nature (2966), Southampton on Mar 13, 15 9:06 AM
Let our waterfowl hunters take a few swans each year, no cost to the taxpayer and the population will be reduced. Check out Taylor and Heady Creeks HH, way too many swans there, the ecosystem has been thrown out of balance and indigenous birds are being displaced.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Mar 13, 15 7:53 AM
Hi Nature,

Actually, there is research in the US stating the Mute Swans Are Not an invasive species and evidence to show not detrimental to the habitat and are native. Furthermore, additional studies have been conducted that state the Mute Swans eat the same amount of plankton and other aquatic larvae as a 300 gram trout. Does that now mean that NY should kill trout or other fish because they eat the same diet as other wildlife species? Again, there is a plethora of actual research published ...more
By ShirleyBolin (6), on Mar 13, 15 1:37 PM
I never said that Pheasant don't impact birds in other areas - but they do not interfere with native species which are threatened or endangered.

Trout and Swans are comparing apples to oranges. One is a bird (with no natural predators, and not native to the region) the other is a fish, with lots of natural predators, that is native to the region.

Mute swans eat a lot of submerged aquatic vegetation in our bays and estuaries and that's a real problem. It's also a real problem ...more
By Nature (2966), Southampton on Mar 13, 15 4:15 PM
Hi Nature

As far as Michigan, they are also basing their facts on research that never occurred. Under the Freedom of Information Act, Barb Avers, Michigan DNR stated when asked about the detrimental problems, "Well it could happen like it did in Maryland." Again, where was the research?

Last year, Mr. Larry Hindman, Maryland DNR stated explicitly the swans in Chesapeake Bay were killed Without any environmental studies or research ever be in conducted. Yet, all were killed except ...more
By ShirleyBolin (6), on Mar 13, 15 1:57 PM
And no lawsuits have been filed against Michigan and Maryland for the wanton killing of these swans with nothing backing it up?

What do you consider the "April 14, 2003 Mute Swan Management Plan" ?

Is it your belief that swans have 0 negative impacts on submerged vegetation, other species or water quality?

Seems like your goals and objectives are related to swans in private possession - no mention of trying to protect wild swan populations. It's interesting that ...more
By Nature (2966), Southampton on Mar 13, 15 4:22 PM
Hi Nature

You need to do more research on the aspects you have cited. There was a Federal Appeals Court injunction placed against US Wildlife Services to stop the killing of Mute Swans in Maryland until a NEPA Study was completed. The state of Maryland went under the radar, killed the swans and then claimed lawsuit did not effect them. This same lawsuit was to also place the birds back onto the Migratory Bird Treaty which it was illegally and under the radar removed. This lawsuit was ...more
By ShirleyBolin (6), on Mar 14, 15 8:21 AM
So it's fair to say that without swans, your organization will not have a place and will not be able to generate any revenue? Is it possible that you and your organization has a financial interest in seeing swan populations remain (or, dare I say, increase?).

I didn't look at any "publications" or "books" - only your website which was telling.

I'm not sure why you claim that the birds were removed "under the radar" and "illegally" from the migratory act. First of all, the ...more
By Nature (2966), Southampton on Mar 14, 15 11:31 AM
I believe I have adequately addressed all points previously made. Therefore, I will end this forum by stating that We have NO financial stake. From day one, 1998 when we first formed the RSF, we began as a group of volunteers and as of this day continue as volunteers. We have never taken any governmental grants and totally depend on sponsors and some donations to help conduct non biased research. These sponsors allow us access to their DNA Sequencing, titration, scanning electron microscopy, blood ...more
By ShirleyBolin (6), on Mar 14, 15 12:19 PM
You provide no information to prove that the swan is "non-invasive", don't provide a reason or opinion as to why the NYSDEC (and Maryland, and Michigan, and ABC and Audubon Society) are trying to manage swan populations if not for the reasons they state and don't dispute that the lawsuit brought by Hill was based on the pleasure he derived from viewing the birds, and not based on any scientific or biological reason as to why they should be protected.

At least we have both provided our views ...more
By Nature (2966), Southampton on Mar 14, 15 2:03 PM