New York Legislators Call For Two-Year Delay on DEC Plan to Eradicate State’s Mute Swan Population

Posted on 17 February 2014

Virginia Briggs photo.

A mute swan swims in East Hampton. Virginia Briggs photo.

Editorial note: an updated version of this post can be found here.

By Tessa Raebeck

New York officials have introduced legislation that would impose a two-year delay on the Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) plan to eradicate the state’s mute swan population by 2025.

Co-sponsored by Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. of Sag Harbor and state senators Tony Avella of Queens and Steve Cymbrowitz of Brooklyn, the bill would halt the DEC plan, which was completed and introduced in December 2013. The legislation would require the DEC to illustrate the “actual damage” the mute swan population causes to the environment or other species before exterminating the species.

“Wildlife experts, rehabilitators and environmentalists do not unanimously agree that exterminating the mute swan population is justified,” Mr. Thiele said in a statement. “In addition, there is debate amongst such experts about whether the planned eradication of the mute swan population is even minimally beneficial to the eco-system or to our environment. Therefore, it is incumbent on the Department of Environmental Conservation to illustrate the necessity of eradicating this non-native species by demonstrating the actual damage to the environment or other species caused by mute swans.”

Mute swans are an invasive species of swan named “mute” because they are less vocal than other swans. Native to Europe and Asia, they were brought to North America in the late 1870s due largely to their aesthetic appeal. Initially introduced in New York as ornaments on the estates of the lower Hudson Valley and Long Island, mute swans were present in the wild by the turn of the 20th century.

According to the DEC, the mute swan population had increased to about 2,000 statewide by 1993, peaked around 2,800 in 2002 and is now estimated at about 2,200. The swans, says the DEC, are still most heavily concentrated on Long Island and in the lower Hudson Valley, although they are also present in the Lake Ontario region.

“On the East End of Long Island, the mute swan is often visible in local ponds and waterways,” stated Mr. Thiele. “My office has not received one report in all my years in office that the mute swan is a nuisance or an environmental problem. This legislation will require all concerned to take a step back and take a hard look before any irrevocable action is taken by the DEC.”

A mute swan on the East End. Zachary Persico photo.

A mute swan on the East End. Zachary Persico photo.

The DEC says the non-native species causes a variety of environmental problems, “including aggressive behavior towards people, destruction of submerged aquatic vegetation, displacement of native wildlife species, degradation of water quality, and potential hazards to aviation.”

To express your comments to the DEC on its draft mute swan plan, email fwwildlf@gw.dec.state.ny.us with “Swan Plan” in the subject line or send letters to NYSDEC Bureau of Wildlife, Swan Management Plan, 625 Broadway in Albany, NY 12233-4754. The deadline for submitted comments is February 21.

To express your comments to Mr. Thiele, call his district office in Bridgehampton at 537.2583.

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