Written by Steve Mosco, email@example.com Wednesday, 12 February 2014 00:00
A plan by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to eliminate mute swan populations in the state is causing a stir among animal activists and residents alike.
The plan, dubbed the Mute Swan Management Plan by the DEC, calls the swans “a non-native, invasive species, brought to North America from Eurasia for ornamental purposes in the late 1800s.” The DEC plan supports actions to “eliminate free-ranging mute swans from New York by 2025.”
The DEC plan goes on to say “mute swans can cause a variety of 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.”
But Massapequa resident Gary Rogers of the Nassau County SPCA and the county’s coordinator for prevention of cruelty to animals slammed the plan, saying it calls for the indiscriminate and unjustifed lethal removal of a majestic animal that has become part of the island’s natural beauty.
“I have no idea why they would want to remove these animals. I have been involved with animals on Long Island for almost 30 years and I don’t know of any swan attacks on a person who was not harrasing them or their young,” said Rogers. “These animals have been here since the 1800s and they have assimilated into the environment. Humans have done far more damage to the environment than these birds.”
The DEC states that studies show swans have displaced other natural wildlife, including native fish and birds. The department also said mute swans “can significantly damage water quality, as their feces contain e. coli.”
“The most effective way to address those concerns is to work toward a gradual reduction of the wild mute swan population,” said a DEC spokesperson. “Our plan, which would allow people to enjoy these birds through responsible private ownership, is more balanced and comprehensive than many critics have suggested, and we encourage everyone to read the plan, as well as a report we prepared on mute swans in New York, before rejecting it outright.”
The DEC said residents can read the full plan at www.dec.ny.gov/docs/wildlife_pdf/muteswanreport.pdf.
“The plan includes important strategies for preventing population growth and specific controls to allow mute swans to be taken from the wild and turned over to responsible owners,” the DEC spokesperson continued. “This is an important component of the plan.”
However, Massapequa residents would prefer to see the animals stay in the neighborhood, particularly in the Massapequa Preserve, where Angela Bierwruth often observes the winged-creatures floating peacefully in a pond.
“I think it’s horrible to consider ousting the swans. I’ve been coming to the preserve for years and I’ve never once seen, or been exposed to, an aggressive swan,” she said. “They’re always peaceful and keep to themselves. If anything, I keep hearing stories about kids trying to harm the swans...they are creatures of nature, and this is a nature preserve. It’s their home. They belong here, far more than we do.”
The Nassau County SPCA noted the DEC’s claim that the swans are aggressive and they displace other species is an exaggerated account of the animals’ behavior and their interaction with the environment.
“There are ways of controlling a species’ population without eradicating them,” said Rogers, who often goes to the Massapequa Preserve for a natural recharge. “You lose these animals, you lose the beauty of nature. You remove this animal, then which animal is next? Are you going to remove all the animals so that you can build houses on the preserve?”
Rogers said the SPCA strongly urges the DEC to focus on non-lethal, humane techniques to control any problems allegedly caused by the mute swan population. And that population, according to Rogers, is very small in Massapequa.
The real problem, Rogers said, is that people visiting lakes and ponds need to understand when to leave these animals alone.
“These animals become aggressive when you threaten their young; just like any other animal or any human,” he said. “The best way to coexist with these animals is to leave them alone. You are not helping them by feeding them bread.”