After a barrage of outraged protests and letters from animal advocates and New York residents speaking out against the state's controversial swan cull, the New York State Department of Conservation announced last week that it was already considering changes to the draft plan -- including non-lethal alternatives to the cull -- and would again re-open the issue to public comment after altering the plan.
The agency is responding to over 1,500 comments on the plan from individuals and organizations as well as more than 16,000 form letters and 30,000 signatures on various petitions -- many of them from citizens concerned over the plan, which was meant to wipe out all 2,200 of the state's mute swans, which the DEC says is an nonnative species that pushes other native birds out.
"The draft plan for management for mute swans received significant public interest and DEC received many thoughtful and substantive comments," Commissioner Martens said. "DEC is listening to these comments and concerns and will revise the draft plan and provide an opportunity for the public to comment on the revised plan this spring."
Now, the question is whether the DEC will entirely change the plan and decide not to exterminate the swans -- or whether it will simply devise a new way to eradicate them.
It's possible that the agency could use sterilization, rather than introducing a hunting program, or rounding the swans up themselves. Bird experts and animal advocates are split on the subject -- some, like the Audubon Society, say the swans are harmful to other bird species, while others say a cull would be cruel, noting that state officials would likely exterminate the birds by gassing or shooting them.
"If the overall goal to eliminate all the swans in the state hasn't changed, then we will send the same comments," said David Karopkin, founder of Goosewatch NYC, referring to a second public comment period that will be held on the issue by the DEC this spring. "We don't think that they should be killing any of them." Karopkin and GooseWatch say that just because the swans are not native doesn't mean they are invasive, and that they can be ecologically valuable because they are sentinel species that signal changes in the ecosystem.
The final word on the state's swans, which were introduced to the U.S. from Europe in the 19th Century, won't be known until sometime in the spring, when the DEC will release a revised plan.
The DEC did not respond to a request for comment.