By Susan Risoli
Mute swans might soon have an easier relationship with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, if a bill recently passed through the York State Legislature is signed into law.
The legislation was written to require DEC to provide scientific documentation that mute swans are a threat to the environment. Also, before taking any action to control the state’s mute swan population, the DEC would have to hold at least two public hearings and give the public at least 45 days to comment on its plans for dealing with the birds.
The legislation package passed the state Assembly June 9 and had passed the state Senate on April 22.
Mute swans, a non-native species from Europe, are considered an invasive species, according to the state DEC. Trumpeter swans, also found in New York, are native to the region and are not included in the DEC’s management plan.
The agency’s proposed mute swan management plan, released in March, called for limiting the statewide population to 800 birds. By 2002, there were more than 2,000 mute swans downstate and 200 upstate, the report said.
State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation, said in a phone interview Tuesday that the mute swan legislation was a response to public concern “that had been raised, particularly about the lack of appropriate science to justify this eradication of a very beautiful animal” that inspires “a sense of curiosity about the environment,” particularly among children.
In April, Englebright and Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Brooklyn), also a member of the Committee on Environmental Conservation, sent DEC’s Bureau of Wildlife a letter saying the agency disregarded the state Legislature’s requests for “full documentation of the scientific basis for management decisions” and requests for “less reliance on lethal management measures. The DEC has failed to provide compelling scientific information as to why such an aggressive management strategy is being pursued.”
DEC spokesman Jomo Miller said in an emailed statement Tuesday that the agency is reviewing the letter from Englebright and Cymbrowitz “as part of its review of the comments received” on the draft management plan. The DEC hopes to adopt a final plan later this summer, Miller said.
“At that time, we will provide a response to the principal comments received, as we did for comments on the first draft of the plan,” he said.
In an interview, Englebright said the legislation is “not just an exercise in willfulness on our part but an exercise in democracy,” and it reflects “a very high interest” from the public about the fate of the swans.
The legislation would require DEC to “give priority to nonlethal management techniques” for controlling the mute swan population. The proposed plan said it does not advocate any specific method of controlling the population, and because many people object to the use of lethal control methods, especially killing adult birds, the DEC will use “nonlethal” methods where practical and timely to achieve the management objectives, the report said.
Research shows that mute swans “can significantly reduce the availability of submerged aquatic vegetation in wetland ecosystems” depending on the number of swans relative to the size of the area being considered, the spokesperson said.
The DEC said in the draft management plan that mute swans hurt the environment by eating and uprooting large quantities of plants that are food for fish and other wildlife. Swan feces have high levels of coliform bacteria, which can make waters unsafe for drinking, swimming and shell fishing, the document said. Their presence near airports poses “a serious threat to aviation,” the plan said. It also said that territorial swans have been known to attack people and other birds.