House bill opens fire on mute swans

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2004:

WASHINGTON D.C.–The House of Representatives Resources
Committee on May 5 sent to the full House the so-called Migratory
Bird Treaty Reform Act (H.R. 4114) and the less controversial Marine
Turtle Conservation Act (H.R. 3378). Both bills were introduced by
Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans Subcommittee chair Wayne
Gilchrest (R-MD).
Both bills are expected to advance rapidly through Congress
as two of the major election year Republican gestures toward
The Marine Turtle Conservation Act provides funding for foreign
conservation programs.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Reform Act would exempt
“non-native” species from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918,
reversing recent court rulings and consent decrees signed by the U.S.
Fish & Wildlife Service in settlement of activist lawsuits which
stipulate that the act covers all migratory waterfowl–including mute
swans and the giant Canada geese introduced across the U.S. by the
Fish & Wildlife Service during the 1950s through the 1970s.
The giant Canada geese do not actually migrate, and for that
reason have been exempted from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act since
1994 by decree, but they are hybrid look-alikes for the migratory
variety, bred and released by the Fish & Wildlife Service in hopes
of rebuilding the migratory flocks so that more geese could be hunted.

The Fish & Wildlife Service, state game agencies, the
National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Nature
Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, and Defenders of Wildlife have
long favored exterminating mute swans as an alleged non-native threat
to scarce trumpeter swans.
“After 75 years of mishandled and mismanaged efforts to bring
back the trumpeters, they are now hunted as a trophy bird,” though
they still number fewer than 25,000, objected Kathryn Burton, whose
efforts to save mute swans in Maryland and Connecticut led to the
introduction of the Migratory Bird Treaty Reform Act.
Trumpeters, Burton charged, “are touted as ‘the ultra
swan,’ but genetically they are the same bird as the mutes. Fossils
show they were living and swimming together in Oregon, Idaho, and
Arizona 9,500 years ago. Over the past 25 years trumpeters,” like
giant Canada geese, “have systematically been placed in states where
they never existed prior to European colonization,” Burton said.
Fund for Animals president Mike Markarian on April 15 called
the Migratory Bird Treaty Reform Act “a reckless reaction to
unsubstantiated anecdotal evidence” in a statement co-signed by 34
other animal advocacy group heads. “As the U.S. District Court for
the District of Columbia recently held,” Markarian said, “the Fish
and Wildlife Service and Maryland Department of Natural Resources,”
which blames the swans for the loss of marine grasses from Chesapeake
Bay, “have not proven their claims.
“Science indicates-and leading environmental organizations
such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation confirm-that the biggest
threats to the Bay are nutrient runoff from intensive livestock farms
and pollution from sewage treatment plants,” Markarian continued.
“Mute swans have become the scapegoat. While some
environmental and birdwatching organizations have lined up in support
of the Migratory Bird Treaty Reform Act, these groups arbitrarily
value some bird species over others–an opinion based on aesthetic
and recreational values, not science.”

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