State environmental officials have dialed back plans to eliminate all wild mute swans, including an estimated 1,600 on Long Island, by focusing on sterilization and attrition rather than euthanasia.
In a revised draft to control a bird that was added to the "invasive" species list as of Tuesday, the Department of Environmental Conservation said its new goal is to reduce numbers from 2,200 to the 1980 levels -- 800 birds downstate and none upstate.
Nonlethal methods, such as transferring the birds or sterilizing them, would get priority over euthanasia. Municipalities and communities would be licensed to manage local mute swan groups, including shaking the eggs to disturb embryo development and clipping wings to prevent them from expanding their territory. Regional differences in keeping down numbers would be allowed -- more hunting upstate and lethal methods for safety reasons, such as preventing bird strikes near airports.
The public has until April 24 to comment on the latest draft.
"It's well balanced," said Lance Robson, chairman of the New York State Fish and Wildlife Management Board, an independent panel that advises the DEC. "It gives a chance for responsible management of the mute swan while protecting our natural resources.
"The goal is to do it through attrition by stopping reproduction, not knocking them over the head."
The state's first proposal in December 2013 had suggested getting rid of wild mute swans by 2025, through mortality, hunting and euthanasia. Introduced in New York in the 1800s, the species has out-competed native fowl, destroyed underwater plants and harmed water quality, state officials said. Left unchecked, they said, numbers could swell to more than 5,000 by 2035.
Many animal advocates had denounced the DEC for focusing on 2,200 mute swans and challenged documentation on habitat destruction. The legislature last year passed a bill to put off any plan for two years, but Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vetoed it.
In a nod to regional approaches, the DEC said Long Island's mute swan population appears to be stable, but upstate the species has been spreading, including around Lake Ontario, where there were none in 1986 and almost 200 by 2002.
Gary Rogers, vice president of the Nassau County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the new draft has one piece missing -- the price. "How much are they spending on 2,200 birds?" he said. "Why don't they start with the real problems?"
He said resources should go to controlling an estimated 200,000 Canada geese and to sterilize feral cats, accused of decimating bird populations.