The State Department of Environmental Conservation is calling for a culling to eliminate all mute swans on Long Island by 2025, according to a species management draft the department issued on January 16.
The proposed regulations targeting the animals—frequent visitors to local ponds, and features of the vistas at Town Pond in East Hampton Village and Lake Agawam in Southampton Village—stem from ongoing observations of the swans’ aggressive behavior, an increasing population statewide, and the swans’ effect on native species, said Lori Severino, a DEC spokesperson.
“It’s something that’s been looked at for quite some time,” she said. “Their population has been steadily increasing over the past couple of years, and they’re a threat to species and plants that thrive in New York State.”
The mute swans, a non-native species originally from Eurasia, are distributed in distinct, dense populations, such as Long Island, Westchester County and Lake Ontario, Ms. Severino said. The DEC says they were first imported to the United States for “ornamental purposes” in the late 1800s.
Part of the drafted regulation, which can be seen on the DEC’s website, calls for lethal control, including euthanizing or shooting the free-range mute swans. There also is the option of capturing and relocating the animals to “suitable facilities” where they can be kept in captivity. Ms. Severino said it will be up to the department which option to choose in specific cases. But the goal, according to the DEC plan, is “to eliminate free-ranging mute swans from New York by 2025.”
“It’s also important to note that part of the proposal is to allow property owners to work with the DEC to conduct control activities like having eggs removed from their property, having the birds sterilized, things like that, in order to control their growing population,” Ms. Severino added.
But according Larry Penny, nature columnist for The East Hampton Star and former director of natural resources for East Hampton Town, the mute swan population is far from on the rise in this area. “Their population is very stable,” he said. “If anything, it’s lower than it was in 1974.”
In a winter waterfowl survey conducted by South Fork Natural History Society of Bridgehampton on January 18, 226 mute swans were counted between the Shinnecock Canal and Amagansett. The DEC estimates 2,200 birds statewide.
While mute swans can deplete aquatic vegetation because their necks are long, allowing them to reach farther down into water, Mr. Penny said, the culling of this specific species doesn’t seem to add up. “Certain types of geese can do the same thing,” he said. “So it doesn’t really make sense to me.”
Despite the DEC’s list of the mute swans’ potential harm, the regulation draft is troublesome to those in local communities who, like Mr. Penny, enjoy the aesthetic swans provide and don’t find their presence to be an issue.
“People like to see the swans,” said Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley. “The swan population, at least in Southampton Village, is very small. So unless there’s some giant piece of scientific evidence that justifies this, I’m not a supporter of it, and I don’t think the Village Board would be either.”
The regulations also bring morals into question, Mr. Penny said: Mute swans, unlike geese or ducks, don’t fly away when approached, making them a relatively easy target. “I’m not against hunting, but this feels very … behind the times,” he said. “We’re in a new millennium, and we should be treating wildlife better than this. It’s just barbaric.”
The DEC is accepting comments and suggestions on its drafted regulations through February 21 via email, at email@example.com, or in writing to its office in Albany.