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Queens Chronicle

Bye bye birdies? Not just yet, state says

DEC plan to eliminate mute swans will be revisited following uproar

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Posted: Thursday, March 6, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:39 am, Thu Mar 13, 2014.

The Department of Environmental Conservation may not try to capture or kill every mute swan in the state after all.

Noting that the majestic white birds are not native to New York and claiming they are disruptive to its natural ecology, the DEC recently had announced a draft plan to get rid of every single one of them by 2025, either by moving or killing them.

That prompted a firestorm of protest from animal rights advocates such as Friends of Animals. As with any DEC draft plan, the proposal was posted online and the public given an opportunity to comment, through Feb. 21.

The agency received more than 16,000 form letters, 30,000 signatures on petitions and more than 1,500 individual comments in response, it said in an email sent Feb. 28. It did not say how many were against the proposed swan management plan, but said it is now revising the plan and will provide another comment period. And it will “consider non-lethal methods to achieve the management plan’s intended goals.”

“The draft plan for management for mute swans received significant public interest and DEC received many thoughtful and substantive comments,” DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in announcing the shift. “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 agency said it is continuing to review the comments it received and will issue a revised draft plan in the spring, followed by another 30-day comment period. Before it even releases the plan, it will meet with “stakeholder groups” to ensure all options are considered, summarize the comments it has received and answer questions and concerns.

“We appreciate the strong response that the draft plan received, and it’s clear that New Yorkers recognize the importance of a comprehensive mute swan management plan that balances the interests of a diversity of stakeholders,” Martens said. “The revised plan will seek to balance the conflicting views about management of mute swans in New York.”

The DEC said it “likely will acknowledge regional differences in status, potential impacts and desired population goals by setting varying goals for different regions of the state” when it revises its plan.

Among the more vociferous opponents of the planned swan killing is state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who earlier this month drafted a bill that would force a two-year delay on the DEC and require the agency to provide details on why it considers the mute swan, Cygnus olor, such a threat to the environment. The bill is being carried in the lower house by Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Sheepshead Bay).

Avella said Monday he is continuing with his bill because the DEC still seeks to eliminate all mute swans, and with only 2,200 of them in the state, he does not believe they are invasive or pose a threat.

Friends of Animals, an advocacy group, worked with Avella to oppose what it calls “the DEC’s vile extinction plan” and blasted the agency’s “hateful attitudes toward mute swans.” It too is unsatisfied with the agency’s revisiting of the plan.

The group believes the DEC may want to eliminate the swans due to pressure from hunters, who do not want them competing for space with gamebirds, according to Edita Birnkrant of Fresh Meadows. Hunting permits are a source of funding for the agency, Birnkrant noted.

A DEC spokeswoman, Lori Severino, denied the charge in an interview Tuesday.

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