New York State Department of Conservation “wildlife specialists” opened fire on a pair of mute swans in upstate New York last Tuesday, orphaning their four baby swans and defying a two-year moratorium on lethal population management techniques that had just passed the Senate and Assembly.
The incident took place in Black River Bay, when residents spotted an unmarked boat approaching a group of swans. Moments later, gunshots rang through the air and two of the swans were dead. Residents, thinking the gunmen poachers, chased them down to discover that they worked for the environmental agency.
“DEC was carrying out a long-standing protocol to manage this invasive species that threatens other species in this sensitive habitat,” the DEC said in a prepared statement to the local television station.
The news riled up two New York City legislators who led the fight to protect the swans.
“This is an outrage,” said Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz in a press release. “We’re doing everything we can do [to] safeguard the swan population in my own Sheepshead Bay community and elsewhere, but clearly DEC did not get the memo.”
“I am absolutely outraged at these horrific turn of events, which occurred almost simultaneously as the State Senate passed a two-year moratorium on your agency’s careless and controversial plan to eradicate all wild mute swans in the state by 2025,” State Senator Tony Avella of Queens. “What is even more troubling is that the shootings happened in broad daylight, in front of passerbys enjoying their day near the Bay.”
Cymbrowitz and Avella introduced the legislation creating the moratorium in the Assembly and Senate, respectively. Although it passed both houses, Cuomo has not yet signed it into law.
The moratorium came after the DEC revealed a draft plan in January to eliminate entirely the mute swan population across New York State. The plan was sharply criticized by animal advocates and those who see the swans – which have populated some areas in the state including Sheepshead Bay for more than a century – as a welcome part of the community. The agency announced in March that it would hold off using any lethal population management techniques until a new plan was made that was more sensitive to the community’s wishes.
The agency appears to have reversed course yet again, spurring criticism from the pols.
“Even without the moratorium being signed into law, the implication was that DEC would stand by its good-faith promise and keep the swans off death row until further notice,” said Cymbrowitz. “Instead, we’re getting a clear indication that DEC can’t be trusted and still plans to engage in the sanctioned killing of mute swans.”
Both pols have sent letters expressing their outrage to Joseph Martens, the commissioner of the DEC.