Either way, their goose is cooked.
Albany is backing off its proposal to shoot or gas the state’s entire mute swan population and feed the birds to poor people. Instead, the state is now planning to round them up and move them to private nature preserves. But pro-swan conservationists argue that keeping the birds in captivity could land the birds in game hunters’ sights.
“Keeping them in captivity is a euphemism for giving them to private citizens for hunting,” said Sheila Bolin of the Regal Swan Foundation.
The Department of Environmental Conservation announced last Friday that it would revise the controversial plan to emphasize “non-lethal means to achieve the management plan’s intended goals” of eliminating the state’s 2,200 free-ranging mute swans.
The draft proposal released last December mentioned some non-lethal strategies — including turning them over to private individuals with facilities appropriate for keeping the birds — but preservationists cry foul, saying that no sanctuaries could accommodate large numbers of swans, because they require large bodies of water so the highly territorial birds can spread out.
“There’s not a sanctuary that can house them,” said Bolin.
Other experts agreed — and suggested the sanctuary idea is just a decoy.
“To me there’s no such thing as a swan sanctuary, and there never could be,” said Virginia Frati, who runs a wildlife rescue on Long Island and sits on the New York State Wildlife Rehabilitation Center’s board of directors. “I think that’s a carrot that they dangle.”
Public institutions are not likely to take in refugee swans either.
“We have a large population of mute swans that we’re trying to figure out what to do with,” said Dave Arwin, chief of resources at the Gateway National Recreation Area. “I don’t believe any natural area in New York City would look forward to increasing its population of mute swans.”
Without wildlife sanctuaries willing to give the birds refuge, some conservationists worry that mass incarceration would be little different from mass extermination, with swans being rounded up and delivered to private hunting preserves.
David Karopkin of Goosewatch NYC — a group spawned by the infamous 2010 Prospect Park goose massacre — said that any plan to give swans to private individuals would probably end up delivering them into hunters’ hands.
Either way, it would be a golden egg for the state, according to Karopkin.
The Department of Environmental Conservation could benefit from selling hunting permits to private citizens taking aim at the birds on private land, he said, but state wildlife services could rake in even more cash under a full extermination plan, because they would get contracts with local municipalities to cull the swans.
Under the original proposal, hunters would not be allowed to shoot mute swans — but the plan points out that the department “has the authority to establish seasons and bag limits for this species.”
Mute swans are the largest bird in the state, and the department’s control plan noted that trumpeter swans have become a popular game bird in other states.
Between December and Feb. 21, the department received 30,000 petition signatures and 16,000 letters that mostly opposed slaying the birds, according to a press release.
Bowing to the heavy criticism, the department plans to hatch a kinder, gentler plan in the coming months, which will subjected to another round of public scrutiny.
“DEC is listening to these comments and concerns and will revise the draft plan and provide an opportunity for the public to comment on the revised plan this spring,” the department said.
The department maintains that mute swans, which roost by the hundreds in Sheepshead Bay, are an invasive species that displaces native birds, destroy aquatic plants, and can be aggressive toward humans.
But Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D– Sheepshead Bay), who led the charge in Albany against the extermination plan, has urged a more tolerant attitude, given the swans’ place in his community.
“Sheepshead Bay wouldn’t be the same without the mute swans,” Cymbrowitz said. “They’re synonymous with grace and beauty. Yes, they may hiss sometimes, but this is New York, so they’re entitled.”