State plan to control Mute Swan population met with mixed reviews

Mute Swan at Avalon Park on September 23

By Kaitlyn Martin and Joe Goncalves

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has introduced a plan to curb the population of Long Island’s 2,000 mute swans through egg-addling and public education, in September.

The plan resorts to non-lethal methods of population control such as egg-addling, which is the termination of a developing embryo, and educating the public on why these swans are harmful to the environment. The initiative includes brochures, signs, web-based information, and public presentations.

“DEC has received comments both in opposition and in support of management,” spokesperson Aphrodite Montalvo said. “Unfortunately, many of the comments in opposition have referred to previous versions of the draft that called for aggressive, lethal, management  in the downstate region of New York.”

Since 2013, the Department of Environmental Conservation has been rolling out plans to cut down the mute swan population. In the most recent plans, lethal methods of control will be confined to the upstate region, while non-lethal methods will first be exhausted on Long Island.

“New York’s plans to use humane control measures such as egg addling and nonlethal repellents downstate is spot-on,” PETA Senior Director of Cruelty Casework Stephanie Bell said. “Such tried-and-true measures should also be implemented upstate, where the plan to exterminate beautiful swans and deny others the opportunity to fly is desperately short-sighted and cruel.”

Free-ranging mute swans became an issue on Long Island beginning in 1912 when 328 of them were released into the wilds of Suffolk County, according to the DEC’s website. The swans are extremely territorial, and once they find a suitable nesting place they will attack other wildlife to keep it. Because of this, the swans settled in, reproduced, and have not migrated since their release.

Some Long Islanders have grown attached to the swans.

“I think the swans bring a nice pop to my development,” Bianca Caras, whose gated community sits atop a golf course, said. “I see them around in the ponds and it’s a nice change from the ugly Canadian Geese – they’re the real invasive species. I don’t know why anyone would want to get rid of the swans. They don’t bother me.”   

Swans have a history of threatening and attacking humans, as reported by the DEC’s website. Several Long Islanders have first-hand experience with the species.

“I don’t like the swans,” Emma Philbin, a resident of West Sayville, said. “They chased my best friend’s mom once and now I’m afraid of them.”

However, some with personal experience being threatened by these swans harbor no ill-will toward the birds.

“Listen, I was chased by the swans. I was in the ninth grade on the beach and they came over to me, so I bent down and I wasn’t going to touch them but one spread its wings and just started running at me,” Elizabeth Cotter, a Huntington resident said. “But even though that moment stuck with me I don’t think we should be getting rid of the swans; they’re just being them. Leave them alone.”

The DEC expects plenty of Long Islanders to want to give their opinions on their newest mute swan plan, as they had received nearly 7,000 comments after their last plan was released in 2015. The department wanted to give residents an opportunity to give their opinions on the new plan at a meeting in Hauppauge on September 19, but cancelled due to the rain.

“People like their voices to be heard,” Bill Fonda, the regional public participation specialist, said. He had been tasked with turning residents away on September 19. “But really submitting concerns online is the same thing. People think showing up is more important, but it’s heard all the same.”

The meeting has been rescheduled for October 26, but residents are encouraged to submit their concerns to the DEC via email until December 13.