Mute swans are among the most beautiful, graceful animals in the world, yet Maryland is brutally killing them. Where once 3,500 mute swans graced the Chesapeake Bay, systematic slaughter by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has reduced their numbers to about 500.
Why would anyone kill these gorgeous animals? The DNR claims mute swans are an invasive species that upsets the local ecosystem of Chesapeake Bay by eating bay grasses. But these few swans have a negligible impact when compared to other factors affecting the bay.
If DNR were really concerned about the health of the bay ecosystem, it would do more to stop the 500 million pounds of pollutants poured into the bay by factory farms, urban runoff and sewage treatment plants every year. These pollutants cause far more damage than 500 swansand are the major cause of submerged vegetation loss. Since 2003, teams of 15 to 20 DNR staff have been dispatched to kill swans. Why spend so much effort to reduce swans when there are a million pounds of pollutants poured into the bay every year for each mute swan?
As waterfowl biologist John Grandy notes, "There are hundreds of thousands of ... geese and all kinds of ducks on the bay, and they all eat bay grasses. Outboard motor shafts on boats pull up lots more vegetation than swans ever thought of eating, but no one asks boaters to stay home."
In the 2003 report, "Mute Swans in Maryland: A Statewide Management Plan," the DNR defines its long-term objective as managing mute swan populations to a level that minimizes their impact on native wildlife and habitats, noting that when there were fewer than 500 mute swans, their impact was negligible. However, now the DNR wants to "reduce the population level as low as possible." The real plan seems to be extermination.
In the past, hunting and trapping were a matter of survival. Wild animals were sometimes dangerous. But times have changed.
Now it is usually not wildlife that threaten us, but we who threaten wildlife. Practices that made sense when wildlife were a constant threat are now outmoded.
Joseph Lamp, a member of the Wildlife Advisory Commission that advises DNR, says of the state agency, "Sadly they seem stuck in the past, using killing as their primary means of wildlife management."
Citizen groups are challenging the killing, giving voice to the voiceless swans. At a recent meeting of a new Mute Swan Task Force, Mr. Lamp proposed a sensible solution: With only about 500 mute swans remaining, the DNR can work with the Humane Society and others to limit population growth through nonlethal means such as addling (shaking) the eggs. If those methods are ineffective, then the swans can be managed lethally.
In a recent interview, Paul Peditto, head of Wildlife and Heritage at DNR, said he is willing to work with the Humane Society and others to control the swan population.
Let's hope the DNR adopts this sensible plan. If not, perhaps it's time for a watchdog group that brings more attention and accountability to an agency that turns to killing as a first response, not a last resort.
Eleanor LeCain is a writer and speaker based in Washington. Her e-mail is email@example.com.