July 2, 2003
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released a draft environmental assessment for the management of mute swans in the Atlantic flyway. The assessment analyzes the consequences of actions to minimize the damage caused by the increasing numbers of mute swans. Implementation of the management plan will protect resources such as wetlands, native fish and wildlife populations, personal property, agricultural resources, and address human health and safety issues.
"Wildlife biologists and refuge managers have significant concerns about the impacts of growing populations of non-native mute swans on native birds and their habitats, " said Service Director Steve Williams. "Mute swans can cause extensive habitat degradation in wetland habitats that are extremely important to native birds, particularly waterfowl. The Service is working closely with wildlife managers to ensure a flyway wide mute swan management plan."
Because of its graceful form and beauty, the mute swan is a frequent subject of stories, but it is not native to the United States. Alarmed by recent rapid growth of the population and detrimental impacts caused by exotic species such as the mute swans, wildlife professionals have argued for a coordinated and cooperative program to reduce mute swan populations to predetermined and manageable levels designed to minimize ecological impacts.
In a court case decided in December 2001, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that a swan in a family "Anatidae" is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Native swans in this family were already protected in the United States' treaties with Mexico and Canada.
The current population of Chesapeake Bay mute swans consumes almost 10 percent of the total biomass of submerged aquatic vegetation in the bay. This reduces the habitat and food source that would otherwise be available to provide shelter and food for a wide variety of wildlife.
Mute swans occupy and defend 15-acre parcels of wetland and some pairs will vigorously defend nest or brood sites from intrusion by other species of waterfowl. Not only can they attack and displace native waterfowl from breeding and staging areas, they have also been known to kill intruding birds of other species and their young.
Mute Swans have reportedly been responsible for several thousand dollars worth of damage to commercial cranberry crops in New Jersey and Massachusetts.
The alternatives outlined in the assessment are no action, the proposed action of lethal control, egg addling, or other types of non-lethal control.
Mute swans were unknown in the United States until sometime prior to 1900. The original introductions probably occurred as semi-domestic birds in eastern North America. Some 26 birds established along the lower Hudson River and Long Island in a semi-wild state by 1928. Through the first half of the twentieth century, there were several more releases of birds along the Eastern Seaboard and Great Lakes. In 2002, the Atlantic Coast population is the largest in North America with an estimated population of 14,313 birds.
Mute swans are sedentary, rarely moving more than 30 miles. The swan requires habitats with shallow vegetated shorelines. In the Northeast, it prefers coastal ponds, estuaries, backwaters and tributaries. It occupies these habitats year-round. As their population grew, some birds began to occupy inland freshwater wetlands. Mute swans are almost totally herbivorous, feeding on a variety of aquatic vegetation. Males weigh about 24 pounds and females weigh about 18 pounds.
Comments should be sent to the Division of Migratory Bird Management, 4401 N. Fairfax Dr., MBSP 4107 Arlington, VA 22203, e-mail to MuteSwansEA@fws.gov or faxed to 703/358-2272 by July 16, 2003. The complete Federal Register notice can be seen at the Division of Migratory Bird Management's web site at http://migratorybirds.fws.gov.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 542 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
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