SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

Sign The Bill To Save The Swans

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An effort is under way to convince Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign a bill that would establish a moratorium to halt the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) project to radically reduce the number of swans in the state.

Of the 2,200 swans in New York, 1,600 of these graceful, elegant birds are on the ponds, lakes, bays and other waters of Long Island. The DEC wants to cut the state total to 800.

The bill for a moratorium on this plan was approved overwhelmingly this spring in the New York State Legislature—60 to 1 in the Senate and 132 to 15 in the State Assembly.

“We need to make our voices heard and support mute swans and urge Governor Cuomo to sign this legislation,” said David Karopkin, founder and director of Goose-Watch NYC. The organization is in the lead pushing for Governor Cuomo to sign the measure. It has a petition on its websitegoosewatchnyc.com—for people to call on Mr. Cuomo to accept the bill, and it is also asking that people “flood the governor’s phone line” at (518) 474-8390. Mr. Karopkin, who just graduated from law school, speaks of a “war on wildlife” in New York State.

Last year, Mr. Cuomo vetoed a similar bill stressing in his veto message that the DEC was developing “a revised draft plan” so, wrote the governor, “Therefore, this bill is not needed.”

The DEC began developing a revised plan in the face of strong disapproval by members of the State Legislature and the public. The opposition has continued to the revised plan, which provides for less killing of swans in favor of clipping their wings and “addling” their eggs so they do not hatch.

State Senator Kenneth LaValle of Port Jefferson, whose district encompasses the Hamptons and the rest of the East End, said: “My colleagues and I approved legislation calling for the halt to the killing of mute swans for two consecutive years now.” He noted how in 2014 “the governor vetoed the measure, stating that the DEC was going to take steps to revise the plan. When the DEC released the last draft plan, I was pleased that the DEC seemed to hear our concerns and began to move in the right direction,” the senator continued. “However, I called attention to the fact that the plan still allowed for the destruction of these birds on Long Island in certain circumstances. I believe that mute swans should only be destroyed as the absolute last resort, and only when they are posing public danger. The legislature’s solution is a reasonable approach that enables public input, requires scientific bases for decisions, and gives priority to non-lethal management techniques.”

The DEC seeks to go after swans claiming they are an “invasive” species. This is being challenged.

Long Island naturalist Larry Penny, former director of the East Hampton Town Department of Environmental Protection, called the claim “nonsense” emphasizing how swans were brought to North America from Europe long ago, after the Civil War.

“They’re not doing any harm,” he said. There are “natural checks on their population—raccoons and foxes take them. They’re subject to a lot of pressure.”

Hugh Rafles, an anthropology professor at the New School in Manhattan, wrote an op-ed column in the New York Times last year, headed “Speaking Up for the Mute Swan,” in which he wrote: “There’s a larger issue here. The real environmental problems faced by New York State are created not by birds but by people … Rather than eliminating swans, we should pay attention to their struggle to survive and what it can tell us about the state of our state.”

The bill to come before Mr. Cuomo states that “wildlife experts, rehabilitators and environmentalists do not unanimously agree that exterminating the mute swan population is justified. In addition, there is debate amongst such experts as to whether the planned eradication of the mute swan population is minimally beneficial to the eco-system or to our environment. Therefore, it is incumbent on the Department of Environmental Conservation to illustrate the necessity of eradicating this non-native species by demonstrating the actual damage to the environment or other species caused by mute swans.”

Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor, a co-sponsor of this and the earlier measure, commented last week.

“I’m hopeful that this year the governor will sign the bill,” Mr. Thiele said. He added that considering its passage by “an overwhelming margin,” if there is a veto, “there is the possibility” of a legislative override. That would require a two-thirds legislative vote.

Under the heading, “Tell Governor Cuomo: Save Our Swans,” GooseWatch NYC on its website speaks of the two legislative votes to put a stop to the DEC’s project and “protect this wrongfully vilified species of wildlife from slaughter, and we’re one more step to the bill becoming law. Our work is not done though. Governor Cuomo must now sign the bill (and not veto it again).” The revised DEC plan, the website continues, “would be a death sentence for swans across the state. If you want to protect NY’s mute swans from destruction, please help us.”

Karl Grossman, a resident of Noyac, is a journalism educator, author and award-winning journalist who has written “Suffolk Closeup,” focusing on local and regional issues, for nearly 50 years. His e-mail addresss is kgrossman@hamptons.com.