New York's mute swans won a reprieve Friday when the Department of Environmental Conservation said it will revise its controversial plan to kill or capture all of the birds by 2025.
The DEC late last year proposed eradicating the large, ornamental birds -- imported from Europe in the late 1800s but now considered an invasive species. The agency says the swans out-compete native fowl, over-consume underwater plants, harm water quality and put planes at risk.
Most of the state's 2,200 mute swans live on Long Island, the lower Hudson Valley and the Lake Ontario area.
The DEC said the new management plan "likely will acknowledge regional differences in status, potential impacts and desired population goals by setting varying goals for different regions of the state."
The agency also promised to consider "nonlethal means," in achieving the goals, but whether that means a less-violent strategy will gain a higher priority is unclear.
The first plan called for destroying nests, puncturing or coating eggs with oil, or sterilizing the swans with surgery or chemicals. State employees would have been allowed to shoot or euthanize adult swans living on public lands or in waters, or catch them for zoos. Landowners could have asked the state to remove their flocks.
Bird lovers joined legislators, conservation and humane officials in criticizing the initial plan. More than 1,500 individuals and organizations submitted comments to the DEC. The agency said it also received 16,000 form letters and petitions with 30,000 signatures.
Petitions submitted by GooseWatch NYC, In Defense of Animals, The Regal Swan Foundation and Save Mute Swans demanded the DEC drop its plans to kill the birds.
DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in a statement Friday that the draft plan will be revised, and the public will have another opportunity to comment this spring.
A number of state legislators have recently submitted bills imposing a moratorium on any killing and requesting the DEC prove that mute swans damage the environment.
"Until their plan doesn't include eradication, it's unacceptable, and they'll be getting the same comments back again," said Gary Rogers, a spokesman for the Nassau County SPCA. The Eastern Long Island Audubon Society has yet to take a position on this issue.
Sally Newbert, who works on the group's board, said her personal view was that manmade pollution was a far bigger problem than any environmental harm the mute swans might cause.
"There are about 3 million people between Nassau and Suffolk counties, many in single-family homes with cesspools leaching into the ground. The use of pesticides and fertilizers that run off into our bays and oceans, I am sure are more harmful than birds. Red tides, brown tides, overharvesting, and overfishing I am sure have caused more damage than 2,000 or so mute swans," she said by email.