New York releases new plan for mute swans with less killing

AP News
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Posted: Mar 09, 2015 6:36 PM

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A revised plan for dealing with non-native mute swans, the majestic white water birds, in New York involves less shooting and more management.

The original plan proposed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation in December 2013 called for eliminating wild populations of the elegant long-necked birds by shooting them and destroying their eggs. Maryland, Michigan and other states have similar plans, with wildlife biologists citing damage the swans cause to native species.

The department backed off the plan last March after an outcry by New York City animal lovers, who said the rationale for killing the graceful birds was flawed.

On Monday, the department released a new plan and said it will take comments for 45 days. The plan still calls for killing free-ranging mute swans around Lake Ontario, but it allows downstate municipalities to manage them in public parks while preventing them from breeding or escaping.

"Wildlife management can present challenges in trying to balance conflicting interests, such as when a beautiful bird has undesirable impacts," Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said. "This revised plan remains committed to minimizing the impacts of mute swans on wildlife dependent on wetlands for their habitats, while being sensitive to public concerns about how and where that is accomplished."

Mute swans, which are distinguished from native trumpeter and tundra swans by their orange bills, generally are quiet, but they aren't mute. They make soft calls that don't carry far, and they can hiss aggressively when threatened. They were introduced to North America to grace the ponds of parks and estates in the 1800s. But, while they're often considered symbols of romance and tranquility, they can cause serious problems, behaving aggressively toward people, destroying submerged aquatic vegetation, displacing native wildlife species and even posing hazards to aircraft.

New York state's mute swan population is estimated at about 2,200, mostly on Long Island, around New York City and in the lower Hudson Valley. A distinct population estimated at more than 200 birds has become established along Lake Ontario since the late 1980s.

The upstate population raises the greatest concern for the Department of Environmental Conservation because of the potential for further range expansion throughout the state. The agency said it will continue long-standing control efforts that include destroying eggs, moving swans to licensed sanctuaries and killing free-ranging swans.

The new plan calls for the department to work with interested municipalities to implement local mute swan management plans that would allow communities to keep swans at local parks. In turn, the communities would be required to help the department monitor and manage wild mute swans to prevent breeding and minimize impacts to natural habitats.