Mute swan defenders make their voices heard in court
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2003:
WASHINGTON D.C.–The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on
September 17, 2003 agreed to withdraw all permits allowing state and
federal agencies to kill mute swans, settling a lawsuit brought by
the Fund for Animals.
The settlement agreement also requires the Fish & Wildlife
Service to withdraw the Environmental Assessment and Finding of No
Significant Impact that endorsed killing mute swans in 17 states.
“It began with an ill-conceived permit to kill mute swans in
Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, but now the outcome has national
implications for tens of thousands of these graceful and majestic
birds,” Fund for Animals president Michael Markarian said. “The
federal government has pulled the plug on Governor Robert Ehrlich’s
attempt to bow down to Maryland’s corporate polluters and the massive
factory farms–the real causes of damage to Chesapeake Bay–and to
turn defenseless swans into corporate patsies.”
The Ehrlich administration in July 2003 proposed opening a
hunting season on mute swans, which would require U.S. Fish &
Wildlife Service approval. Meanwhile, characterizing the allegedly
non-native mute swans as a threat to the ecological integrity of
Chesapeake Bay, Maryland obtained U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
permission to kill up to 3,000 mute swans during the next 10 years.
That authorization is now revoked.
“As U.S. District Judge Emmett Sullivan pointed out in
granting a preliminary injunction to block the killing of hundreds of
mute swans in Maryland,” Markarian continued, “the state’s own
experts have characterized the bay-wide impact of mute swans as
Mute swans have also long been blamed for allegedly displacing
trumpeter swans from parts of their range. The Fund for Animals and
the Biodiversity Legal Found-ation have contended in a series of
lawsuits in recent years that the real problem is failure to
adequately protect trumpeter swans from being killed accidentally by
tundra swan hunters, especially in the Yellowstone region.
“In 1978, at a Trumpeter Swan Society conference held in
Anchorage, Alaska,” recalls mute swan defender Kathryn Burton, of
Old Lyme, Connecticut, “a plan was begun to supplant the mute swan
in the wild with trumpeter swans, coast to coast,” including the
introduction of trumpeter swans to “areas far outside its historic
range. Trumpeter swans were never further east than Wisconsin in
modern times, certainly never in New England or Pennsylvania,”
according to the conferees’ own published proceedings.
“Within a short time,” Burton continues, “park staff were
breaking the necks of mute swans at Yosemite,” waterfowlers were
encouraged to shoot mute swans nearby, and an effort was also begun
to extirpate mute swans from Yellowstone.
“Note,” says Burton, “that trumpeters were introduced to
Yellowstone. Mute swans arrived there naturally.” Participants in
the “war on mute swans” (declared in so many words by
then-University of Montana biologist Ruth Shea) have included the
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Canadian Wildlife Service, the
National Audubon Society, the World Wildlife Fund, the National
Park Service, and many other government agencies, nonprofit groups,
The entire scheme, Burton believes, was hatched chiefly out
of the frustration of restoration biologists that for more than 50
years they had failed in their efforts to rebuild trumpeter swan
populations, which had been hunted to the verge of extinction.
Trumpeter swans were brought from Alaska and released near
Bend, Oregon, as early as 1929 in hopes of saving the species, but
the total number of trumpeter swans in the continental U.S. fell as
low as 70 circa 1935 before there was any turnaround.
There are now about 24,000 trumpeter swans in the Lower 48,
outnumbering mute swans by about 4,000.
Maryland has the most mute swans–but the Maryland mute swan
population fell from circa 4,000 in 1999 to 3,600 in 2002 without
lethal control, Markarian pointed out.
Nonetheless, the Atlantic Flyway Council, representing the
wildlife departments of the 17 states that claim to have mute swan
problems, has urged that the regional mute swan population be cut by
Most states with mute swans contend that their populations
grew from accidentally escaped swans who were kept for ornamental
purposes in relatively recent times. Maryland, for example, claims
the Chesapeake Bay population grew from just five who escaped in
1962. Officially, mute swans are classed as a species introduced
Burton, however, argues that mute swans historically were
native to both sides of the Atlantic. They often appear in the
backgrounds of old paintings, and were certainly common in North
America by 1900.
Ironically, it was the Fund for Animals that won a September
25 verdict from U.S. District Court Judge Patti B. Saris against the
release of non-native ring-necked pheasants at the Cape Cod National
To stimulate interest in sport hunting, Massachusetts
wildlife officials had reportedly released cage-reared pheasants on
Cape Cod, as well as elsewhere around the state, each fall since
The Fund, Humane Society of the U.S., and the Massachusetts
SPCA sued to stop the pheasant releases in 2002, pointing out that
they contradict the National Park Service policy–the strictest of
any federal agency-against the introduction of non-native wildlife.
Saris refused to halt the 2002 pheasant releases, but stopped them
this year when the plaintiffs sued again, seeking a environmental
impact review of the entire Cape Cod National Seashore hunting
“The Park Service says it is examining options for phasing
out the pheasant hunt,” reported Theo Emery of Associated Press.
Also fighting the biggest proposed massacre of introduced
birds in U.S. history, the Fund for Animals and HSUS on October 8
jointly declared their intent to oppose a U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Service plan to give the responsibility for managing non-migratory
Canada geese to state wildlife departments.
“The Fish & Wildlife Service estimates that there are roughly
3.2 million geese nationwide–about 30% higher than it believes are
acceptable,” explained Edward Ortiz, environment writer for the
Journal-Bulletin of Providence, Rhode Island. “The agency wants to
thin the resident goose population by as much as 35%,” which would
require killing from 400,000 to 800,000 geese per year for the next
State wildlife agencies could expedite the killing by
expanding their goose hunting seasons. But perhaps of chief interest
to the Fish & Wildlife Service is just getting rid of an embarrassing
Most non-migratory Canada geese in the U.S. are descended
from hybrids of wild-caught Canada geese with domestic geese, raised
by hunting clubs in the early 20th century to be live decoys.
Banning live decoys in 1936 to protect the then-steeply
declining migratory Canada goose population, the Fish & Wildlife
Service seized some of the hybrids, and for more than 50 years
worked with state agencies to stock them wherever the habitat seemed
favorable, in hopes of rebuilding huntable numbers. Suburban
sprawl, however, overtook most of the stocked sites.
Some states are still moving program descendants to new
habitat, but most long since classed non-migratory “Canadas” as an
The Fish & Wildlife Service in 1994 removed non-migratory
Canada geese from the protection of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty
Act, contending that since they do not migrate, they should not be
Also on October 8, even as the Fund and HSUS denounced the
goose killing plans, the Fish & Wildlife Service extended to 24
states a 1998 rule that allows wildlife agencies to kill
double-crested cormorants without first getting a federal permit.
The 1998 rule applied to 13 states. Like the proposed transfer of
authority over non-migratory geese, the new cormorant policy amounts
to exempting the target species from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act,
after 85 years of coverage.
Opposition to cormorants comes chiefly from sport fishers and
Less eager to kill popular bird species, the Fish & Wildlife
Service in June 2003 refused to pay for a proposal by Hawaii state
wildlife biologist Fern Duval to kill about 200 mitred conure parrots
who have become established during the past 20 years in northern
Maui. Duval in August told Timothy Hurley of the Honolulu Advertiser
that she would seek USDA funding instead.
The World Parrot Trust and Maui Animal Rescue & Sanctuary in 2001
announced a plan to capture the conures, but failed to secure needed
permits and funding.
Bird massacres in the name of conservation are scarely just a
Clydesdale Animal Action and Animal Aid, of Scotland, in
August 2003 organized two days of protest against British efforts to
kill non-native ruddy ducks, whose alleged offense is hybridizing
with whiteheaded ducks during their migrations to Spain.
Waterfowling enthusiast and wildlife painter Peter Scott
introduced ruddy ducks to Britain from the U.S. in 1952, nine years
before he founded the World Wildlife Fund. The British population of
ruddy ducks is now between 3,000 and 6,000.
Birders dismayed at purportedly declining numbers of
whiteheaded ducks have fulminated against ruddy ducks for decades.
Spanish whiteheaded duck enthusiast Jose Antonio Torres
Esquivia has reportedly spent up to $250,000 a year since 1984 to
find and kill a total of 122 ruddy ducks plus 58 hybrids. British
officials persuaded by his example purged 2,651 ruddy ducks in 1993,
1994, and 1999, before instituting the current scheme to eradicate
ruddy ducks from Europe.
The killing is decried by Tom Gullick, 72, of La Mancha,
Spain, whose life list of more than 8,250 species of birds seen,
out of some 9,600 recognized species, is among the longest of any
“Genetic purity is a sort of a bug that some biologists have
in their heads,” Gullick told David Sharrock of the London Times in
July. “They would rather have no whiteheaded ducks than ‘impure’
ones from abroad.”
In any event, Sharrock wrote, “It is now more than 20 years
too late to worry about impurity, since by Gullick’s calculations
the more than 3,000 whiteheaded ducks now thriving in Spain are
descended from just 19 pairs, nearly half of whom came from Asia.
Gullick’s involvement began in the late 1970s, when he counted only
23 whiteheaded ducks–a quarter of the official estimate.”
Recounted Gullick, “Hunters were shooting the ducks, and I
reckoned that one more winter would have been the end of the Western
Therefore, Gullick leased the hunting rights to the
whiteheaded ducks’ last habitat, hired a guard to keep hunters out,
bootlegged whiteheaded duck eggs in from Pakistan, hatched them,
and released 16 whiteheaded ducklings at La Mancha.
“Whiteheaded ducks are now regularly seen in La Mancha,
where they never lived and bred before,” concluded Sharrock.
On the far side of the world, the New Zealand Fish and Game
Council in August authorized farmers to massacre black swans near
Canterbury and Lake Ellsmere, lest they become established in
pastures, consuming alfalfa instead of water weeds.
“They’re doing massive damage,” complained silage grower
Brian Goddard. “They pollute the pastures and they eat so much grass
Goddard did not mention how much he spends per year for phosphate
fertilizer. Waterfowl are among the most effective and prolific
distributors of phosphates in nature.
In Singapore the National Environ-ment Agency was reportedly
investigating an allegation that three members of the Singapore Gun
Club have been collecting double bounties on Indian house crows. The
trio claimed to be killing 50-70 crows per day.
Since 2001 the NEA has paid bounties on about 110,000 crows,
asserting that this has cut the Singapore population from more than
120,000 to barely 30,000.
The crows are much hated as a noisy “alien” species–and are
likely to reclaim the habitat just as soon as the shooting stops,
since food sources remain abundant and no other species appears
likely to move in.
Richard Mabey, author of the plant encyclopedia Flora
Britanica, denounced “ecological fascists” who massacre non-native
wildlife in a June column for BBC Wildlife magazine. Mabey called
terms such as “alien” and “invasive” reminiscent of Nazi propaganda
for eugenic genocide.
“Nature hasn’t the slightest regard for species and racial
barriers,” Mabey said. “Evolution has always been a matter of
change, moving on, miscegenation, symbiosis, and partnerships of