Sound Off: New York's Mute Swans Finally Win Reprieve

This past December, mute swans in New York finally gained protection under legislation introduced by Senator Tony Avella and Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation released a draft management plan in 2013 calling for eradication of all 2,200 birds by 2025 (see AWI Quarterly, spring 2014). When the initial plan was unveiled, AWI and many of its members sent in comments, saying the proposal was inhumane and failed to comply with a duty under the State Environmental Quality Review Act to first produce an environmental impact statement. The DEC subsequently revised its plan, scaling back—but not eliminating—the killing of swans.

Meanwhile, Sen. Avella and Asm. Cymbrowitz introduced legislation imposing a two-year moratorium on swan eradication and mandated that the DEC prioritize nonlethal management techniques, rely on scientific evidence to assess the swans’ environmental impact (as opposed to making unsupported claims of damage), and hold public hearings before adopting plans to manage the animals.

However, Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed the legislation in both 2014 and 2015, claiming the DEC was already adequately managing this species. Finally, in November 2016, after Sen. Avella and Asm. Cymbrowitz reintroduced the bill and it once again passed both chambers of the state legislature (and after both the DEC and Gov. Cuomo received thousands of emails from AWI supporters and others), the governor signed it into law.

The hope is that this law—in mandating a consideration of nonlethal techniques and a reliance on scientific evidence—will provide a template for other states to ensure that wildlife species are not haphazardly killed by state agencies.