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Cuomo signs bill blocking plans to eradicate mute swans

A mute swan swims with its offspring in

A mute swan swims with its offspring in Cold Spring Harbor on May 2, 1999. Credit: Newsday / Bill Davis

Long Island’s 1,600 mute swans, prized for their majestic beauty by admirers, earned a reprieve from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who signed a bill blocking plans to eradicate them.

The new law puts a moratorium on the Department of Environmental Conservation’s proposal to rid the state of all 2,200 of these swans because it deemed them an invasive species.

Mute swans, imported from Europe in the 1800s, threaten native waterfowl by outcompeting them and polluting the water, the DEC had said.

However, environmentalists and bird- and wildlife lovers assailed its plan as a cruel response to a non-problem that was not supported by scientific data.

On Monday, Cuomo signed the moratorium into law, according to the legislature’s website.

The new law notes “wildlife experts, rehabilitators and environmentalists do not unanimously agree that exterminating the mute swan population is justified,” according to the legislature’s website.

The law also says these experts debate “whether the planned eradication of the mute swan population is even minimally beneficial to the ecosystem or to our environment.”

Before the DEC can finalize any plan for managing mute swans, it will have to hold two public hearings and respond to all public comments, under the new law.

Any new plan to control the number of mute swans would have to prioritize nonlethal methods, according to the new law. A new DEC strategy would also have to “include scientific evidence of projected and current environmental damage caused by the mute swan population.”

The DEC did revise its initial plan to focus more on nonlethal methods, including transferring the birds or sterilizing them, but that proposal still met with harsh criticism.

Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket) who chairs the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee, last year said the DEC’s proposal could result in birds that are “maimed to be flightless and sitting on nest eggs that never hatch.”

Englebright and Assemb. Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Sheepshead Bay), in a joint letter to the DEC in 2015, wrote that it relied on “video clips on the internet” and outdated and flawed studies.

Cymbrowitz had sponsored the new law.

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