Swan ransom: State will spare birds — if you pay

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Sheepshead Bay’s swan enthusiasts can save their beloved birds — but it’ll cost them.

More than a year after the Department of Environmental Conservation announced its plan to exterminate all of the state’s mute swans, and local lawmakers cried foul, the department unveiled a new mute swan management plan this month, which would spare the birds from certain death — but only if individuals or local governments foot the bill to care for them in captivity at licensed facilities.

Pro-swan activists say this ransom demand is simply passing the buck.

“I think the DEC is trying to shift the burden of wildlife management to local municipalities and that is offensive,” said David Karopkin, the founder of GooseWatch NYC, which agitates to save large birds from state execution and has launched an online petition to halt the eradication plan. “The idea that the only acceptable mute swan in New York State is one that lives in a zoo-like condition is not one that sits well with me.”

The department said that its new plan will keep 800 birds alive in the wild — out of a total of more than 2,000 birds in New York City, Long Island, and three surrounding counties. The rest will be destroyed, according to the department, but it would allow individuals or towns, villages, and other municipalities save them by taking on the burden of maintaining the birds in licensed facilities.

“Because many people object to the use of lethal control methods, especially killing adult birds, DEC will use ‘non-lethal’ methods … where practical and timely, to achieve the management objectives,” the plan states. “[T]his will require some commitment of funding and assistance from organizations and individuals who wish to see non-lethal options used to the extent possible. Placement and proper care of swans … can be costly to local governments or communities, but if people who enjoy seeing mute swans are willing to support such programs, DEC will cooperate with those efforts.”

Last year, the department announced it planned to kill all mute swans in the state by 2025 because the birds were an invasive species. It said the birds displaced native wildlife species, destroyed aquatic vegetation, damaged water quality, posed a threat to aviation, and had the potential to attack residents.

The plan prompted Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D–Sheepshead Bay) to buy time for the bay’s beloved birds with a bill requiring a two-year moratorium on the plan. The bill passed the Assembly and the Senate but was vetoed by the governor. Cymbrowitz reintroduced the bill in February.

The president of the Regal Swan Foundation said the department doesn’t actually expect municipalities to raise enough money to save the birds — instead, she said, the ultimatum is the department’s way of shifting the guilt onto individuals and local governments when the department kills the birds and blames it on those who couldn’t afford to keep them.

“This is nothing more than a bait and switch program,” said Sheila Bolin, adding that the mute swans are not aggressive and should be able to live freely in the wild. “It needs to stop — there is no scientific reason for it.”

The Department of Environmental Conservation is accepting comments on its swan management plan through April 24. Write to NYSDEC Bureau of Wildlife, Swan Management Plan, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4754 or send an e-mail to with the subject “Swan Plan.”

Reach reporter Vanessa Ogle at or by calling (718) 260–4507. Follow her
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

John Wasserman from Prospect Heights says:
I beg your pardon? I'm sorry to say that this just won't do. This seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Swans on leashes? They will be no doubt attacked by countless dogs, in my opinion. Also, if you don't mind my pointing this out: SWANS ARE MEANT TO BE AN OUT OF DOORS ANIMAL! Given the size of the average apartment in Brooklyn these days, I'd say that the gas chamber is their best bet.
This is a very concerned John Wasserman.
March 23, 2015, 11:31 am
ty from pps says:
i think they should have non lethal ways to kill them.
March 23, 2015, 12:48 pm
Honey from Williamsburg says:
We have maintained for years that swans would not have to killed if they had more natural preadators. The City has ignored our pleas to bring in Swan Hounds, or super aggressive rats. It's no surprize that they're breeding like swanbits.
March 23, 2015, 1:12 pm
ty from pps says:
special on swan at the park slope coop.
March 23, 2015, 4:27 pm
Mb from WT says:
Insane...they will fall prey to dogs and other animals including heartless people. Not allowing them their God-given right to live freely and fly from danger is a disastrous plan and cruel.

I agree with the Regal Swan Foundation. I feel it is a way for the DEC to unload the guilt on others. In other words, if this is what you want, then it is in your hands and will be taken out of YOUR wallets.

When will this wanton killing of wildlife end? Climate change has reared it's ugly head in the form of thousands of waterfowl dying of starvation over the last two years thanks to these brutal winters.

I'm tired of looking up into the sky wondering if what I see flying now will be become just a memory.
March 24, 2015, 8:30 am
Robert Bate from PLG says:
I'm sorry to see you mischaracterize the DEC's plans for controlling a destructive invasive species problem.

Mute Swans are not native to the United States and are not "tuned" to the ecology here. The remaining freshwater marshes along the eastern seaboard depend on an uninterrupted growing season for the Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) to put down roots and grow to maturity. Mute Swans are non-migratory (the reason the wealthy brought them from Europe to stock their estate vanity ponds). They feed on spring SAV growth, even pulling the plants out by the roots. Our native Tundra Swan, on the other hand, is a migratory bird and is only seen in these parts from fall to early spring.

We stand to lose our precious freshwater marshes which are home to many species of waterfowl, provide filtration and also provide resiliency for coastal areas in the event of storms.

The DEC plan calls for a number of non-lethal and humane control methods before the most drastic measures are considered. They are asking communities to partner with them to care for local birds and insure that those birds left in Prospect Park, Sheepshead Bay and other locales don't reproduce and emmigrate to sensitive marshland. This is not "ransom."
March 24, 2015, 10:01 am
ty from pps says:
who will speak for the mute swans?

first they came for the mute swans. . .
March 24, 2015, 10:59 am

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