Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz is warning the DEC about a potential violation of state law following the agency’s latest plan to reduce the population and range of mute swans — an invasive species — in New York.
Cymbrowitz, D- Brooklyn, fired off an angry letter to the DEC on Nov. 14 addressing what he sees as a lack of scientific justification for removing the non-native species of waterfowl.
There has been public outrage — which some lawmakers have heard — over the DEC’s plans to eradicate the invasive mute swan population in New York. The agency has written three eradication plans which have progressively toned down the use of lethal methods. For example the latest plans states that “every effort will be made to use non-lethal management techniques; however, where necessary, mute swans will be lethally removed.”
In the eyes of the DEC, mute swans interfere with native species because they are aggressively territorial, they feed on underwater vegetation that is used for food and shelter by native fish and birds, they have been known to attack humans on occasion, and they can pose a threat to aircraft when taking off or landing.
But Cymbrowitz says he is angry that the DEC has not updated its population projections or other data that justifies killing the birds.
“Critically, the plan violates the legislation I introduced with Sen. Tony Avella, which passed both houses of the Legislature overwhelmingly in 2014 and 2015 and was signed by Gov. Cuomo in 2016, which included requirements that DEC fully document the scientific basis for future mute swan population projections and produce current evidence supporting its claim that mute swans are harmful to either humans or the environment. The plan does neither,” Cymbrowitz said.
“Instead, DEC’s third draft plan contains no new scientific data on population projections and relies on the same dubious and outdated evidence – including an alleged swan attack that took place back in 1970 – that raised valid objections when DEC’s first two drafts were released.”
In a third draft of the mute swan management plan, which was written as a response to initial public backlash, the DEC said it will reduce the range and population growth of mute swans by using both non-lethal and lethal means across the state, with a focus on the former whenever possible.
The DEC’s management goal is to “minimize the current and potential impacts of mute swans on native wildlife, their habitats and people.”
In 2016, Governor Cuomo signed a bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Cymbrowitz and Senator Tony Avella, requiring the DEC postpone the implementation of the mute swan extermination plan for two years.
“Since the time I first introduced the two-year moratorium on DEC’s mute swan eradication plan, I have heard from individuals and organizations across the state, including many people in my own southern Brooklyn district, who stand in agreement that DEC is behaving in a manner that is both inhumane and without scientific merit,” Cymbrowitz said. “DEC’s third draft plan only strengthens my resolve to keep fighting.”
As means of non-lethal capture, the DEC plans to establish licensed facilities in accordance with “prohibited invasive species” law. Responsible possession of the swans will prevent reproduction and escape. Another non-lethal action is referred to as egg addling, which prevents eggs from hatching by covering them in oil. When non-lethal means are exhausted, the DEC is planning to permit the humane killing of mute swans by DEC members and licensed community members.
However, lethal removal will be limited to situations involving human health and safety. In downstate New York, which includes New York City, Long Island and Orange, Rockland, Putnam and Westchester counties, people are not permitted to practice lethal removal. In the rest of New York, regulations are more permissive of lethal removal as upstate has been granted “more aggressive control” over the mute swan populations.
Mute swans can be aggressively territorial and feed on the sub-aquatic vegetation which results in limited shelter and food for the native marine wildlife that relies on that vegetation as a food source or habitat. The mute swans often uproot far more of this vegetation than they consume which contributes to the destruction of these habitats and food sources.
Native birds that attempt to co-exist in the same environment as the mute swans, are pushed away and aggressively displaced, especially during nesting periods.
Being brought here from Europe and escaping captivity, the mute swans are labeled as non-indigenous to North America. The mute swans are somewhat dangerous when living in public parks and areas of recreation, due to their territorial nature. Additionally, the swans can pose a problem for airplane safety, as a large bird striking a plane can damage it, something in the airline industry that is known as a “swan-strike.”
“The plan to kill 100 swans a year (or more) upstate defies the will of the thousands of citizens who demand that mute swans be protected and managed compassionately in New York City, on Long Island and upstate, Cymbrowitz said. “I believe that the plan must be completely rewritten to ensure that only non-lethal management for mute swans is considered by DEC.”