Thursday, March 6, 2014

Saving the Mute Swan

About a month ago a friend and watcher of Mute Swan mentioned to me that the New York State DEC was promoting a draft plan to eliminate all of the Mute Swan in  our state.  At first I thought that he was just telling me a joke, because we both spend a lot of time enjoying several Mute Swan in Huntington Harbor, along East Shore Road, and we dearly love them.
  This is SeeMore a few days ago in Huntington Harbor near East Shore Road.  Over the years SeeMore lost his mate and finally connected with another female last summer, SeeLess.  We were elated.  A third swan lurks near them but at a distance.  So for a long while we have seen three Mute Swan in the area.  Once in a while others come by, but mostly its the three of them. 
This is a photo that I took the other day in Heckscher Park, a Town of Huntington Park.  It was a very cold day and I walked around the pond and saw three swan.  I have lived in Huntington for almost forty years and like everyone else walk around the pond to enjoy the birds and the scenery.  I am also a Huntington Park Steward for the Village Green area near my home.  The idea that the DEC was planning on removing the Mute Swan was unthinkable.  So I spent the month reading their plan,, and everything else that I could find on the history of the Mute Swan in New York.
The first thing I did was to call people regarding the Swan.  Growing up in Roslyn/Greenvale, which is in Nassau County, I called the historic Swan Club.  They knew about the plan and had already called their legislators.   Their club logo is the Mute Swan.

I called the Huntington Harbor Master and asked if he had ever had reports of aggressive Mute Swan. " No" was his answer.
I registered my protest on the DEC's web site in their comments space, which has ended as of March 21st. 

Dear New York State DEC,

As a life long North Shore resident of Long Island, I find that your plan to “manage” the Mute Swan population, to eliminate them by 2025, from New York State, primarily, Long Island, offensive. Mute Swan in Huntington Harbor, which I am familiar with, co-exist with many species of wild birds, such as: Great Blue Heron, White Egrets, both large and small, Plovers, Buffelhead Ducks, Mallards, Night Herons, Sea Gulls, Cormorants, Osprey, and of course Canada Geese. They seem to be territorial like most animals and do have special domains. I have never heard of Mute Swan defecating on lawns, unlike the Canada Geese, because they spend most of the time in water and maybe up on the shore during low tide. What is their offense?

I have read the draft for the eradication of these beautiful and peaceful birds in your eleven page draft. I cannot imagine that you or someone else will shoot, poison, trap, and kill the Swan that I have come to know in my neighborhood. After over one hundred years of residence on Long Island, and only numbering maybe 2200 birds, 1800 on Long Island, it seems odd that you do not pursue the 200,000 Canada geese that have created traffic dangers, caused homeowners, park goers, golfers, etc endless problems. These birds were imported from Europe by the families of the Gold Coast as decorative pets. I understand that, but they have not really grown in number to any dangerous extent in all that time. Over my 67 years as a Long Islander, I have loved watching them. Mute Swan have been the subjects of artists' paintings and photographs. They have symbolized love and marriage as loyal mating life long pairs. Children have seen baby cygnets on their parent's backs, and marveled at the care the adult swan give to their offspring. Your plan will make many citizens sad and confused.

Please advise me regarding any public meetings regarding this plan.
In a world where there seem to be many other more pressing State of New York issues, focusing on eliminating the few graceful, and quiet Mute Swan, seems a misplaced concern.


Loretta Guglielmino

Their arguments were thin and  not based on any observations that I had made of Mute Swan over the years.  Three points were suspect: that Mute Swan were aggressive towards humans, that they were polluting the waters, that they were not co-existing with other species of wild birds, and that the date of 1880 as their re-introduction to New York State, that they were not indigenous,  may have been wrong.   There were only, according to the DEC 2200 in New York and only 1800 on Long island where they were first re-introduced.  Their numbers hadn't really increased in over one hundred and twenty five years, compared to other bird species.
 This is an illustration from Birds of the World, 1961, by Oliver L.Austin and illustrated by  the world famous artist, Arthur Singer.  I have this book in my art studio and refer to it all the time.  I also looked at another book,
Birds of New York State Robert E. Budliger and Gregory Kennedy, 2005, illustrated by artists Gary Ross, Ted Nordhagen. Ewa Pluciennik
But the thing that really got me started on my questioning the logic of this plan was a story that the Huntington Town Historian, Robert Hughes, wrote about "Tom the Swan."
This is a scan of the original postcard  that a friend had in his collection, from 1900!.  I took it to Staples and made huge copies as posters.

 I started to hear and read news stories on local and state wide newspapers and web sites telling of the outrage that most citizens felt.  Elected officials were writing legislation to prevent the slaughter of the swan.
 I contacted my friend Natalie Naylor, professor emerita Hofstra University, who is an expert on Long Island History.  We tried to find out if there were Mute Swan on Long Island prior to the dates stated by the DEC.  The information mentioned swan, but not a particular species.
 This is a sleeping Mute Swan on the ice the other day in Heckscher Park.
On February 4, 2014, I went to the Town of Huntington Board meeting.  there is an portion called the public portion, where a citizen can speak about a concern.  I went with a list of questions on the DEC's Mute Swan Plan.
Town Board Meeting Feb.4th, 2014

Questions regarding the State of New York Department of Environmental Conservation's plan to remove Mute Swan from New York and especially Long Island

1. Has the board read the proposal to remove the Mute Swan
2. Can the state DEC remove the Mute Swan from our harbors if we do not agree
3. What is the procedure for removing the Swan during the day or evening as adults and children watch
4. What will happen to the Swan that are removed
5. Are you concerned about the unintended consequences of the removal of a single species from our harbors and ponds
6. Do you agree with the “science” and reported facts outlined by the plan
7. Is the designation of “invasive species” accurate when speaking about Mute Swan, or are they a “re-introduced” species
8. Do Mute Swan destroy the submerged aquatic plant life to a greater extent than other birds, or by the pollution created by humans, and boats
9. What is the true motivation of the DEC regarding the removal and fate of the Mute Swan
10. Are the numbers of Mute Swan actually increasing or have they leveled off and stabilized after 125 years
11. Have there been many reports of aggressive behaviors by Mute Swan towards humans in our township.
12. Are the Mute Swan “indicator” birds with regards to alerting us to the quality of the local environment
13. Is this effort worth the public funds that it will cost, as compared to leaving the Mute Swan alone
14. Do Mute Swan co-exist with other bird species or displace them
15. Do Mute Swan pose a potential true aviation danger and have there been reports of such
16. Why have there not been open public forums to discuss this plan, and to investigate the science and details of such a plan
17. What will happen to the comments that the DEC has collected from their web site
18. Can the New York State DEC over ride public concerns and go ahead with this plan unilaterally, or is there some oversight committee that can review their plan
19. Does it seem a bit arrogant to completely ban the members of a species by another species
20. Since the thinking 125 years ago was to re-introduce the Mute Swan to Long Island, will citizens 125 years from now fondly remember when we had Swan, and will they try to bring them back
21. Will the members of the committee that has developed this plan sign their names to it

 A Town Board Member, Gene Cook, asked me to make an appointment with his office to fill him in with the details of the plan.  I brought a poster of Tom the Swan for his office. He offered to write to our elected officials too.
 I started to get e-mails from other concerned people, some from the south shore of Long Island and as far as Florida.
Even with all the snow this winter, stories in the newspapers, digital and paper, and on T. V.  were overwhelming the DEC.  They had underestimated the way New Yorkers felt about the elegant birds.  And with over 200,000 Canada Geese, and countless Deer worrying people,  e-mails poured into their web site and offices.  Legislators responded and were on the side of the Mute Swan. 
The facts in the plan were not presented with common sense.  Gun shot is not permitted in our harbor.  The image of sharpshooters going after the swan was horrifying.  Over time Mute Swan had been domesticated by people, although they are free ranging birds, they come over to people willingly.   There are benches in Heckscher Park, so that people can watch the birds including the Mute Swan.  Last year I am told, the park officials protected the swan's nest and babies.

These are two drawings in the Birds of New York State book comparing the shape of the different swan necks. The Mute Swan which are common on Long Island, have the graceful curved neck and a large  distinctive orange and black knob and bill. They hold their heads down, while the Tundra Swan has a more erect head and straight neck.  The Trumpeter Swan was not pictured in the book.
After reading a chapter in the Digital History of New York State
it outlined the transformation of the North American environment by early European settlers.  They brought many domesticated animals.
The Columbian Exchange
The 15th and 16th century voyages of discovery brought Europe, Africa, and the Americas into direct contact, producing an exchange of foods, animals, and diseases that scholars call the “Columbian Exchange.”
The Indians taught Europeans about tobacco, corn, potatoes, and varieties of beans, peanuts, tomatoes, and other crops unknown in Europe. In return, Europeans introduced the Indians to wheat, oats, barley, and rice, as well as to grapes for wine and various melons. Europeans also brought with them domesticated animals including horses, pigs, sheep, goats, and cattle.
Even the natural environment was transformed. Europeans cleared vast tracts of forested land and inadvertently introduced Old World weeds. The introduction of cattle, goats, horses, sheep, and swine also transformed the ecology as grazing animals ate up many native plants and disrupted indigenous systems of agriculture. The horse, extinct in the New World for ten thousand years, encouraged many farming peoples to become hunters and herders.
The exchange, however, was not evenly balanced. Killer diseases killed millions of Indians. The survivors were drawn into European trading networks that disrupted earlier patterns of life.
So if we are worried about the environment, and the negative effects of Mute Swan on our New York State environment, then what about the domestic animals that were imported from Europe, especially the domestic house cat, which came over on ships including the Mayflower.  Cats were imported to control mice and rats which fed on the grain from the newly tilled and cultivated fields, formerly woods and weeds.  Domestic house cats that venture outdoors, and Ferrel animals, are responsible for the killing of 1.3 billion to 4 billion birds a year in the United States according to the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington D. C.  

Here is SeeMore in the Harbor co-existing with ducks, see gulls, Canada Geese, and other birds including Heron, Egrets, and Cormorants. Maybe we should take a page from SeeMore, who has learned to live and let live with others.
Some photos taken by my friend F. Rogers Ketcham