Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

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.

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  • Ross

    A FOIL could seek documents relating to all mute swan killings since a particulate date, to include photos. I don’t think it would help if shootings were done in the dark. Perhaps any shootings should only be done by personnel in uniforms.

    Historically, killing swans was one of the most heinous and loathed crimes around. (It still is in most parts).

    I don’t think a rulemaking proceeding in which the shooters charge the swans with being a menace to humans will change anything. If the mute swans had a voice, they would point out that the humans are the menace to the swans, not the other way around. As the killing continues, there will come to be video that then will go viral and result in national publicity, It is a public relations debacle in the making.

  • Moraque

    This is an example of the bizarre logic that extreme environmentalism has gotten to. Mute Swans are not Zebra Mussels. Also, any examination of the paleontological record shows animal species move around. But, if humans are involved they freak out.

    • Effin Really?

      What bizarre logic? That 2 swans minding their own business and raising 4 babies are suddenly and ruthlessly shot to death leaving 4 babies to a slow death by starvation is wrong? I think it’s bizarre that the DEC can pay people to do this and that there are actually people with cold, cruel hearts that can carry this out and walk away like it was nothing. “Extreme Environmentalism” ???? When is enough going to be enough? The USDA/APHIS killed 4.1 MILLION animals last year including 477 dogs. The Feds spent 57 million of our tax dollars, and local Governments another 64 million. Like it’s monopoly money! If anyone is interested in the breakdown of the animals killed and how and some of the stupid reasons why (danger to clothing being my favorite) please see and call Gov Cuomo at 518 474 8390 and urge him to sign the bill and investigate this outrage.

      • Effin Really?

        And that doesn’t include another 20,000 birds and other animals shot to death by the Port Authority at JFK. Not to get onto the argument regarding the birds posing nearly no threat to aviation, (your chances of dying in a plane crash from a bird strike is 0.00000068% or to put it another way, you could take a flight a day for 200,000 years and still only have a 50/50 chance of it happening) that they have the technology to prevent bird strikes (used by Israel and other countries) why should Port Authority Police be shooting possums and any other creature that moves? Trigger happy idiots! No logical reason for that IS THERE?

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  • Alex

    How about legislators pass the bill to capture instead all those Brooklyn junkies who just do drugs all day around the hood!!
    I think It’d be far more beneficial

  • Murry

    Why the surprise ? We did the same thing when the American Indian was annoying us.

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