Published January 20. 2014 2:46PM Updated January 20. 2014 2:52PM
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York wildlife officials are proposing to eliminate wild populations of non-native mute swans under a 10-year management plan that calls for shooting the birds, sterilizing them and destroying their eggs.
"We've been getting a lot of comments on the plan," Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman Lori Severino said Monday. "It's a draft plan, and we're encouraging public comments."
The DEC estimates the state's mute swan population at 2,200, with three distinct populations on Long Island, the lower Hudson Valley and along Lake Ontario. Native to Eurasia, the elegant birds were imported in the late 1800s to grace parks and estates and have established wild populations.
"They're an aggressive, invasive species," Severino said. "To protect our own native species, the plan was necessary."
The Atlantic Flyway Council, made up of state wildlife agencies, adopted a plan in 2003 to reduce the mute swan population. New York's population was to be reduced to 500 by 2013 under that plan. Instead, it has grown slightly, because little action was taken.
Mute swans have white plumage, an orange bill, a black face mask and a graceful curving neck. Native tundra and trumpeter swans, which are smaller, have black bills and straight necks.
Wildlife biologists say mute swans cause a variety of problems, including aggressive behavior toward people and other birds, destruction of aquatic vegetation, degradation of water quality, displacement of native wildlife species and potential hazards to aviation.
Maryland has an aggressive control plan that reduced the population of mute swans from nearly 4,000 in 1999 to 200 in 2010. Michigan's wildlife agency has said it wants to reduce the state's mute swan population from about 15,500 to less than 2,000 by 2030. Connecticut and Rhode Island have control programs that include nest and egg treatment or removal. Ohio is also working on a control plan.
But culling programs have drawn criticism from humane organizations.
GooseWatch NYC has posted an online petition opposing New York's mute swan reduction plan and criticizing the Department of Environmental Conservation.
"Its plan to utterly eliminate this majestic creature from the face of its land reflects an agency that has lost touch with its core mission as well as with the greater voices to which it must ultimately answer," the petition says.
The department's proposed plan says hunting could be one effective way to reduce the mute swan population. Allowing people to take swans out of the wild to keep in captivity under a special permit also could help, the plan says. It would outlaw importation and breeding of mute swans.
The plan calls for the department to kill swans, destroy their nests, coat eggs with oil or pierce them to prevent hatching, and sterilize birds by chemical or surgical means. It also would authorize property owners to use the same methods to eradicate swans.
The agency is taking comments until Feb. 21 at http://bit.ly/1kNxjmR .