Animal rights group files federal lawsuit to stop state from shooting mute swans

April 19, 2005|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

An animal rights group sued in federal court yesterday to prevent Maryland wildlife biologists from shooting up to 2,000 swans over the next two years, a move state officials say is designed to preserve Chesapeake Bay.

The Fund for Animals contends that the state's plans to shoot the mute swans will increase the likelihood that their Eastern Shore members will see "the killing of birds, or dead, wounded or dying animals."

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, asks the judge to reverse an administrative decision allowing the state to shoot the birds by exempting the swans from protections granted other migratory birds.

The state lacks scientific evidence to support claims that the swans are damaging the bay, and the birds are "really a scapegoat for the bays' other problems, which are mainly agricultural runoff and sewer plant discharges," said Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president of litigation for the U.S. Humane Society, which is operated jointly with the Fund for Animals.

State biologists say the swans are an invasive species that must be eliminated because they are damaging the bay by eating tons of bay grasses.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Audubon Society, the American Bird Conservancy, the Nature Conservancy and several other groups support the plan, said Jonathan McKnight, associate director of habitat conservation for the state Department of Natural Resources.

This week, state biologists will begin addling eggs in up to 300 nests, a process involving the use of oil that will keep some from hatching, McKnight said. But he said shooting some swans also will be necessary.

"This is an unfortunate but necessary step we have to take," he said.

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