Wildlife Watch Comments on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Third Draft Plant for Mute Swan Management in New York
Article posted by C.A.S.H. Committee To Abolish Sport Hunting

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Mute Swan

The Plan addresses how to contain, limit, or eliminate mute swans regionally. There are two regions of concern. The first is the downstate region consisting of about 1500 mute swans (DEC Draft Plan, pg. 3, Figure 1) ranging across NYC, Long Island, Westchester, Putnam, and Rockland counties. The second region is upstate which, according to the Audubon Society Christmas count, has less than 200 mutes.

To understand the Bureau of Wildlife’s (BOW’s) near hysteria over the low number of mute swans, we have to look at it in the context of BOW’s agenda, which is to increase waterfowl populations including two other swan subspecies: tundra and, especially, trumpeter swans FOR THE PRIMARY PURPOSE OF HUNTING.

Waterfowl are managed across the country including NYS in cooperation with Canada to create an overpopulation of game species for sport hunting. Waterfowl and their management are of great importance to BOW for the firearms and ammunition excise tax yields from killing waterfowl.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), and state game agencies including BOW (operating within the DEC), are mandated by the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, first announced and promoted in 1986, to increase waterfowl populations (ducks, geese and swans) for hunting. Evaluation of their progress and changes to strategy occur about every five years. Waterfowl managers must manage our waters and lands to send millions of ducks, geese, and swans to the skies for eager hunters. While the NAWMP is touted as a “waterfowl conservation” plan, in fact it is the promotion of strategies to produce high numbers of waterfowl for hunters, while leaving a population to continue the cycle the following season.

Between the mid-90s and 2004, as an interested civilian, I attended an International Canada Goose Symposium in Madison, Wisconsin, and three Atlantic Flyway Council meetings that were held in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. At least one was a joint meeting of both the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyway Councils. I was privy to discussions at the general meetings, as well as the closed committee meetings, and filmed a number of these meetings prior to the existence of YouTube and the popularity of the Internet. The videos captured the inner workings of what self-congratulatory wildlife managers referred to as “world-class science.” During the meetings, waterfowl managers shared what their state was doing to promote increases in waterfowl hunting and discussed how to satisfy their own hunters without lessening impacts on other states. In other words, since waterfowl migrate south in the winter and north in the spring, if, for example, Maryland were to allow high bag limits, it would impact the hunting in NY as waterfowl migrated northward. Basically, I witnessed what was the sharing of management techniques, observations of waterfowl population status, and, shockingly, a bartering game of species and bag limits. The meetings were attended by the waterfowl managers of the states within the Flyway, as well as by representatives from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS). During the period I attended, Jerry Serie was the Flyway representative of the USFWS. He is now an advisor to The Trumpeter Swan Society (TTSS).

The goal of TTSS is to increase the trumpeter swan population to a huntable level. At that point, they would become a “game” species with seasons and bag limits for their killing.

TTSS is one of the driving forces behind the introduction of trumpeter swans in NYS. They describe their mission this way:

The Trumpeter Swan Society brings together private citizens, organizations, and public agencies to help meet challenges facing Trumpeter Swans today. It takes partnerships and collaboration to continue to restore and conserve these magnificent birds across North America.

TTSS has been North America’s leader of Trumpeter Swan conservation since 1968. For nearly 50 years, TTSS has played a pivotal role by providing expert science based technical support in most of the major restoration programs. Our vibrant “swan network” of researchers, swan managers, and biologists have gathered and shared the best science based information and research to help bring back the Trumpeter Swan in areas where they have not been seen in more than a century. [They continue in that vein.]

TTSS’ EFFORTS FOCUS IN FIVE MAJOR AREAS

  • Protecting and increasing the restoration progress already made
  • Working with Flyway Councils and swan managers on swan issues
  • Habitat assessment and protection
  • Public information/education
  • Swan research and its dissemination

At the second flyway meeting I attended, I was told I could videotape the general meetings, but not the committee meetings. At one of the committee meetings a small group of managers met for the purpose of demonstrating that the trumpeter swan was native to NY. The group included Jerry Serie representing the USFWS and Bryan Swift, who was the NYS Waterfowl Manager. Bryan had an exciting announcement to make: he asserted that there had been a sighting of a trumpeter swan in NYS in the 1800s. What a boon to the flyway council and to BOW, as that single sighting thus allowed NYS to claim that management efforts were for the purpose of the REintroduction of an extirpated species rather than for the introduction of a new species to the state, as the latter form of management is not legitimate.

Bryan Swift’s trumpeter-sighting source is questionable in the light of a paper titled: THE STATUS OF TRUMPETER SWANS IN NEW YORK STATE IN 2007 by Dominic Sherony 51 Lambeth Loop, Fairport, NY 14450 [email protected] Jeffrey S. Bolsinger 98 State St., Canton, NY 13617.

The paper throws the legitimacy of BOW’S claim that it is “re”introducing trumpeters to NYS into question and has a significance that should cause the NYS Legislature to take a hard look at wildlife management today.

trumpeter swan
Trumpeter Swan

The Sherony/Bolsinger paper’s highlighted quotes below are excerpts for a quicker read. Their paper reveals that trumpeters are in fact being INTRODUCED into NYS state through a deliberate collaboration of the Canadian Wildlife Service, provincial wildlife agencies, the USFWS, BOW within the DEC, and private cooperators who are breeding trumpeters. One major breeding ground called Savannah Dhu doubles as a private hunt area for other species and is adjacent to the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, which is open to hunting during the season. Of particular relevance is the following:

Although most of these programs style themselves as “reintroduction” or “restoration” programs, and they are referred to in this manner below, the original breeding distribution of this species remains a contentious subject (Carroll and Swift 2000; Whan 2000; Rising 2001). Page 1 of the Sherony report.

The first reports of Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) in NYS were of wing-tagged birds at Dunkirk Harbor, Chautauqua Co., in the fall of 1988. Since that time sightings have increased and breeding has been confirmed in at least six locations. Most likely, these NY birds are derived from two sources: the Ontario reintroduction program for this species, and a private reserve in Clyde, Wayne Co., NY [Savannah Du] where unbanded fledglings have been allowed to roam freely since around 1990. Although less likely, swans from reintroduction programs in Ohio, Michigan, and Minnesota could also be a source for NYS birds. According to the DEC, tagged Trumpeter Swans in NYS are presumed to be from the Canadian reintroduction program north of Lake Ontario. Page 1 of the Sherony report.

To date there are at least four confirmed breeding locations for Trumpeter Swan in Wayne Co. The initial nesters were birds introduced at the Savannah Dhu, a 5000-acre private reserve at 2500 Noble Rd. in Clyde, NY, in 1990; one or possibly two pairs have been breeding there annually ever since. The original 4 birds were pinioned but subsequent breeding pairs there are all free ranging. Page 4 of the Sherony report.

As an example of nesting success, single nests in 2005 and 2006 produced six cygnets each year. &I The Savannah Dhu location has served as a most likely source for other Wayne Co. pairs. The longest known nesting site outside this private reserve is near the property of Don Colvin on Hogback Rd. just south of Rt. 31 in the township of Savannah, where one pair has successfully bred annually since 2002. This property contains a large pond, islands and a marsh, all visible from Hogback Rd. Six cygnets were hatched in 2007; four remained by the end of June. Another pair has bred in a marshy area behind the home at 4427 Boynton Rd., Walworth, in 2004,2005, and 2006 and has fledged cygnets successfully in both 2004 and 2005. …

tundra swan
Tundra Swan

These three confirmed breeding sites are documented in the NYS Breeding Bird Atlas (in press) and are all believed to pertain to progeny of the birds from the Savannah Dhu reserve. Page 4 of the Sherony report.

… According to the most recent information from the Montezuma NWR and the Northern Montezuma Wildlife Management Area, there has not been any confirmed breeding at these locations, but both are near the main source of swans in Wayne Co., the Savannah Dhu reserve (L. Ziemba, pers. comm.), and could host future nesting sites. Frequently, young swans will remain into early winter in the area of the Savannah River on the Northern Montezuma WMA. … Page 4 of the Sherony report.

REINTRODUCTION PROGRAMS IN THE NORTHEAST … At Wye Marsh, swans are fed a mixture of corn and duck grower pellets twice daily, both to provide a reliable source of food, and so that volunteers can more easily record swan tag numbers. The feeding program continues to the present time… Page 5 of the Sherony report.

LITERATURE CITED: Carroll, D., and B. L. Swift. 2000. Status of the Trumpeter Swan in New York State. Kingbird 50: 232-236. Henslee, K. A., 2005. 2005 Seney NWR Trumpeter Swan Monitoring Project. Seney NWR Report, Seney, MI. 49883. Rising, G. 2001. The Questionable Wisdom of Introducing Alien Species. The Kingbird 5 1 : 575-578. Whan, B. 2000. Did Trumpeter Swans Ever Breed in Ohio? The Ohio Cardinal 24: 30-46. Page 8 of the Sherony report.

It’s clear that managers who are trying to grow a trumpeter swan population sufficient for hunting have a hard row to hoe. While at a flyway meeting in 1996 or 1995, an enormous loose-leaf binder was handed to me by an agent. It was titled: Waterfowl Habitat Restoration, Enhancement and Management in the Atlantic Flyway. That publication provides insight into the methods employed by waterfowl managers to create high numbers of waterfowl for hunters. The following partial table of contents, informs the readers of the breadth and depth of land, water and wildlife manipulation for that purpose:

HABITAT RESTORATION, ENHANCEMENT AND MANAGEMENT IN CANADA
Beaver Pond Management
Artificial Fertilization

montezume refuge
Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge 9-25-17 - Photo Anne Muller

Managing Small Wetlands for Waterfowl (Ducks Unlimited Canada)
Wetlands Stewardship in Atlantic Canada
HABITAT MANaGEMENT IN THE US
Waterfowl Breeding Habitat Management Techniques
Waterfowl Wintering Habitat
Management of Brackish and Saline Tidal Wetlands for waterfowl
Greentree Reservoirs (creating unnatural wetlands through flooding for attracting waterfowl to food source)
Use of Water Level Control in Habitat Management
Construction of Potholes for Waterfowl Habitat
Fencing Stream Corridors for Wildlife
Canada Goose Management
Wood Duck Management
Nest Box Management
IMPOUNDMENT MANAGEMENT
Tide Marsh- Estuarine Interchanges and Impoundments
Construction, Maintenance, and Water Control Structures of Tidal Impoundments
Small Impoundments for Waterfowl.
HABITAT RESTORATION AND ENHANCEMENT
URBAN-SUBURBAN HABITAT MANAGEMENT AND HUMAN DISTURBANCE
MULTIPLE USE MANAGEMENT
WATERFOWL HARVEST MANAGEMENT
Innovative Regulations for Managing Waterfowl Hunting
Regulation of Harvest and Hunting Practices for Quality Experiences on Managed Wetlands
FURBEARER MANAGEEMNT FOR WATERFOWL HABITAT
Beaver Pond Management
Beneficial Uses of Beaver
Managing Beaver to Benefit Waterfowl and Other wildlife
Muskrat and Marsh Management in the Manipulation of Waterfowl Habitat
DISEASE, PREDATION, DEPREDATION
Mute Swan Control in the Atlantic Flyway

montezume refuge
Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge 9-25-17
Photo Anne Mulle
r

MANAGEMENT EQUIPMENT, WATER CONTROL STRUCTURES AND VEGETATION MANAGEMENT
Wetlands Restoration Equipment
Aquatic Vegetation Cutter Use in Freshwater Wetlands
Amphibious Hydraulic Rotary Excavator
Wooden Trunk Water Control Structure
Materials and Cost of Canada Goose Platform Newest Structure
Nesting Structures for Puddle Ducks
Water Level Control Structures
The Herbicide Glyphosate for Phragmites, Purple Loosestrife ad Cattail Control

Authors listed write: The advent of glyphosate-based herbicides has given waterfowl managers another tool for controlling plants that have a tendency to dominate wetland areas and form a monotype such as phragmites, purple loosestrife and cattail. This chapter is not intended to advocate the use of glyphosate over other mechanical, biological or chemical control substances…

There’s no doubt that huge resources are devoted to increasing waterfowl populations and the “reintroduction” of species to satisfy the appetites of sport hunters.

In the above publication, in Section J titled POPULATION MANAGEMENT AND CONTROL with a subsection Mute Swan Control in the Atlantic Flyway, it states, “Opposition to mute swan management will develop from animal rights groups…politicians might be swayed to opposition because of their constituents and emotionalism.” Page J-149. All of the suggestions that are in the current draft plan are the same suggestions from that 1995 publication.

TRUMPETER BREEDING, WATERFOWL PRODUCTION, AND THE MUTE SWAN CONNECTION

If we need more convincing that there is a connection between BOW’s efforts to rid NYS of mute swans to in part provide space for trumpeter swans, the Wisconsin DNR put out the following statement: The presence of mute swans in the wild has the potential to interfere with the restoration of the native trumpeter swan. Mute swans also compete for resources with other waterfowl such as loons, ducks, colonial waterbirds, tundra swans, and geese and will sometimes completely displace, or even kill, native waterfowl. While trumpeter swans may also compete with other waterfowl, this is a natural occurrence because it is between native species. Mute Swan Issues Wisconsin - Wisconsin DNR, dnr.wi.gov/files/pdf/pubs/wm/wm0473.pdf

A Canadian publication:

https://www.ec.gc.ca/mbc-com/1F7DE11E-F4B9-4638-9260-DC9E79437996/Mute_Swan_E_04-1_WEB.pdf
states the following: Although uncommon, Mute Swans and native swan species can interbreed and produce hybrid offspring that can threaten the genetic integrity of native species; Trumpeter Swans may be most at risk due to overlap in breeding range and habitats.

BOW’s trumpeter swan introduction efforts, as well as other waterfowl production projects, deserve scrutiny because it is the only way to understand the urgency of BOW’s draft plan for Mute Swan Management, and because it underlies their mute swan eradication proposal.

The Third Draft Mute Swan Management Plan is really a plan to clear the way for trumpeter and tundra swans by severely reducing or eliminating the mute swan population from the wild.

BOW’S STATED OBJECTIVES

Statewide:
Kill mute swans only when non-lethal measures don’t work.
Authorize property owners, local government and local agencies to take direct action against the swans.
Downstate:
Limit the population growth primarily through egg-addling and rendering juveniles or adults flightless.
Upstate
Prevent the establishment or expansion of mute swans and achieve a stable or decreasing population through killing or capture.

BOW’S STRATEGIES FOR ACCOMPLISHING UPSTATE GOALS

BOW will conduct aggressive mute swan control, such as direct removal of mute swans . They suggest capture and placement at a DEC-licensed facility. If no facility can take the birds in a timely manner, lethal control will be used. The total statewide removal is expected to be less than 100 birds annually (as though those 100 lives don’t matter, with another 100 placed at DEC-licensed facilities.

BOW will permit property owners and local government entities to take adult swans, cygnets, eggs, or nests . They refer to mute swans as “offending birds” that need to be “disposed of”.

BOW is considering a hunting season for mute swans. One primary concern of theirs is the accidental take of tundras and trumpeters.

BOW’S STRAGEGIES FOR MANAGING THE PUBLIC:

Public Education and Outreach:
Outreach to the public demonizing mute swans.
Allowing individuals to take direct action
Discouraging feeding at sites

IS THERE A NEED FOR MANAGEMENT OF THE MUTE SWAN?

In the light of BOW’s goal to encourage two large swan species to fill the gaps left by the removal of mutes, this ludicrous and contradictory plan should be dismissed out of hand for the following reasons:

THE TUNDRAS AND TRUMPETERS WILL EAT EVEN MORE SAV AS THEY ARE LARGER BIRDS and will have the same impact or a greater one on other waterfowl and fish spawning areas. They outweigh the mutes and can do their own displacement without the help of wildlife managers. Bascially, no management is needed as evidenced by the sparse number of upstate mute swans, less than 200 total!

Aggression has only been seen during nesting. Some observations contradict even that, attributing aggression to some individuals. The point being that aggression may be a trait of some individuals not necessarily the species.

In a 2016 article

http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.3161/00016454AO2016.51.2.002
published in Acta Ornithologica, titled: “Analysis of Spatial Point Pattern Shows No Desertion of Breeding Mute Swan Areas by the Other Waterbirds Within Fishpond,” the authors write: “In conclusion, these results question whether the increasing Mute Swan populations actually directly threaten the other waterbird communities, in such habitats, and require population control as is often claimed.”

In 2017, an analysis by Dr. Kevin Wood et al. concluded that swans were unfairly being singled out for aggressive waterfowl. The study was published in the scientific journal Animal Behaviour,
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003347217300453
and concluded that swans were no more or less aggressive than any other birds they studied. The global meta-analysis of published time–activity budgets, using a data set comprising 555 values from 88 studies, to determine variation in the time that waterbirds engaged in aggressive interactions.

According to literature quoted in our comments, it is doubtful that trumpeters were ever native to NYS, and if that is the case, the mute population precedes trumpeters by more than 100 years.

It can be assumed that tundras and trumpeters will also acclimate if they are in suburban and urban areas where people are feeding. It is the feeding that keeps them now from migrating from Ontario where they are being bred.

The problems that BOW cites in their draft plan can easily be dismissed when we look at the full scope of their goal of introducing a swan subspecies that will cause the very problems that they argue are the reason for eliminating the mute swan:

Trumpeters are native swans and mutes are not.

BOW is demonizing the mute swan in part for being non-native, yet they are participating in increasing a larger subspecies of swan that was possibly never native to NYS.

Mutes have been in NY since the mid-1800’s and trumpeters started being introduced to the state beginning in 1988 through today. Mutes precede trumpeters by over 100 years.

Mute swans eat too much submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV)
BOW asserts that without lethal and non-lethal intervention mute swans will take over all critical bodies of water in NYS. BOW is disingenuous as it hides its agenda of increasing trumpeter and tundra swans throughout the state for hunting purposes. Hypocritically, all the impacts that they cite will only be exacerbated by the increase of trumpeters and tundra swans, which are larger birds with a larger capacity and need for SAV.

Mute swans who are at most 26 lbs eat on average 4 to 8 pounds of SAV a day; trumpeters will eat concomitantly more than that as their weight is close to 40 lbs. All swans eat SAV.

Presently, BOW’s big game managers are encouraging a moose population in NY for eventual hunting. Moose eat large quantities of SAV and will dive to about 18 feet to grab it. A trivia fact is that moose can hold up to 112 lbs of food in their stomachs and eat about 60 lbs a day of vegetation both SAV and land veggies.

Mute swans impact native wildlife, their habitats, and people.”

This is a disingenuous statement as trumpeter swans and moose will have a far greater effect on SAV and public safety (“bird strikes” or car-moose collisions).

Mutes are not protected by the revised Migratory Bird Treaty Act because they are non-native.

The MBTA changes when wildlife managers suggest change. As lawsuits for killing mutes had been brought against game agencies based on violations of the MBTA, in 2015 the FWS requested the removal of the mute swan claiming they were non-native. https://www.fws.gov/laws//Testimony/displaytestimony.cfm?ID=134

Protection” is a deceptive term as it means that migratory waterfowl are protected from hunting only during breeding season to build numbers so that they can be hunted during set seasons by the game agencies. To state that they are not protected gives the message that they can be harassed, mutilated or killed any time of year with impunity.

Displacement of Native Bird Species.

If we look at the type of management described in the publication referenced above, “Waterfowl Habitat Restoration, Enhancement and Management in the Atlantic Flyway,” we see that game agencies manage for game species, which comprise less than 1% of all species, to the detriment of non-game species.

Any alleged damage that 2,000 dispersed mute swans across NYS can do pales in comparison to the manipulation by game managers of land, waterways, and wildlife to create conditions that will increase waterfowl hunting. See the table of contents of Waterfowl Habitat Restoration, Enhancement and Management in the Atlantic Flyway on pages 3 and 4 of these comments.

Mutes have no fear of humans.

That is actually a plus for wildlife watchers, as other animals can be skittish or learn that people are to be avoided as a result of hunting.

Trumpeters and tundras have the same potential to become visitors to waters in friendly areas, and this would, of course, be a game agency concern.

WILDLIFE WATCH STRONGLY OBJECTS TO THE FOLLOWING PROPOSALS BY BOW TO REDUCE AND ELIMINATE MUTE SWANS IN NYS:
..DISSEMINATION OF MATERIALS TO DEMONIZE MUTE SWANS:

As the DEC’s waterfowl production programs are far more deleterious to the ecology and environment, the DEC should not be allowed to put out propaganda to schools, paid for by property taxes, when they serve less than 3% of the state’s population that hunts and where students attend who are rightfully disturbed by hunting. Mute swans are the current straw man in the cruel and destructive business of wildlife mismanagement.
.. A HUNTING SEASON FOR MUTE SWANS:

This online hunting forum shows that hunters are drooling to have a mute swan season.
https://huntingny.com/forums/topic/27071-decs-mute-swan-management-plan/

BOW’s connection to the firearms industry needs to be exposed and NYS General Fund monies that end up in their hands should be uncovered and recovered for purposes such as education and health, and to pay for the victims of gun crimes or accidents caused by firearms. Minimally, the NYS General Fund foots the lion’s share of BOW’s upkeep via overhead costs.

.. ALLOWING “EUTHANASIA” BY PROPERTY OWNERS OR OTHERS:

This will unleash sadists and those who are indifferent to the lives, pain, and suffering of individual animals. A recent news report illustrates the need for mute swans to have protection by states who have no protection under the revised MBTA.
http://wnep.com/2017/01/24/no-charges-in-swan-hunt-in-the-poconos/
no charges were filed against man who shot and killed a mute swan as they are not protected….

swan hunters

RENDERING SWANS FLIGHTLESS:

This is the equivalent of amputating a person’s legs.
.. REMOVAL TO A “SUITABLE FACILITY”

Such a facility would need to be defined and approved by animal protectionists who should be considered stakeholders. Decisions need to be made by full consensus. A “DEC approved facility” could in fact be a private hunt area. Examples of some BOW licensed private hunt facilities can be seen here: http://www.ultimatewaterfowlhunting.com/business/spring-farm/

Although it offends the senses, I’m including a photo as proof that there are hunters who crave killing swans:
https://www.google.com/search?q=swan+hunting&tbm=isch&imgil=UzkHF97gU3LYvM%253A%253BxoL6uxfNQa9rWM%253Bhttp%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.uwcadventures.com%25252Fswan-hunting-guides&source=iu&pf=m&fir=UzkHF97gU3LYvM%253A%252CxoL6uxfNQa9rWM%252C_&usg=__vOsOxigXH9R7Av-v3s7P4Loj48I%3D&biw=1280&bih=694&ved=0ahUKEwi3ovH-grTWAhVJwiYKHTKrDQgQyjcITg&ei=uIHCWbfmCcmEmwGy1rZA#imgrc=Yp6DXUDYu1EbSM:

THE GOALS OF THE BUREAU OF WILDLIFE NEED TO CHANGE

It’s quite clear from the latest report of the 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, published by the USFWS, that the population of hunters dropped 16% while the population of those who wish to view wildlife has increased by about 20%. It is of much greater public value to manage wildlife for people who enjoy viewing, photographing, tracking, and other non-consumptive wildlife activities.

Preston Friedman
Hungry Preston Friedman being fed by a generous mute swan

Preston Friedman
Hungry Preston Friedman being fed by a generous mute swan

The general public needs to be informed that their taxes are being used to support an insensitive, destructive and bloody sport of killing wild animals for pleasure.

Wildlife management must enter a new era of managing for wildlife watching and not for hunting. Their ties to weapons excise taxes must be severed.

NYS legislative action is needed to remove sole authority over our wildlife from the Bureau of Wildlife. Mute swans and other wild animals need protection from their alleged protectors.

Contact: Anne Muller, Wildlife Watch, [email protected]

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