It's disturbing when warm and fuzzy sentiments get in the way of facts as wildlife technicians try to do what's best for everyone, and every animal
Anyone who has read my columns knows that I am no supporter of wildlife management by emotions.
Voter initiatives are too easily manipulated with loosely worded, feel-good tripe that brings tears to uninformed voter’s eyes as they vote “yes” when science proves conclusively that they should be voting “no.” It has happened too many times in recent years for wildlife managers not to be worried sick whenever that kind of voting takes place.
Even large portions of state legislatures are often found guilty of these crimes against nature. Certain segments of the public, long versed in how to pull the right strings in order to get a politician’s complete attention, will propose the strangest, wildest, and/or stupidest issues that those legislators must support in order to keep their cushy jobs.
It is one of the most important jobs of the governor of any state to sort through the various bills sent to him by the legislators in order to weed out those strange, wild and/or stupid wannabe laws and veto them.
When he fails to do his job, which is not uncommon when his re-election looms in another year or so, it is the wildlife that eventually suffers the most. Shameful action is no excuse for violating the sacred public trust they were given.
Governor Cuomo is guilty of violating that sacred public trust. For the past two years the NYS legislature has sent him a bill giving protection to the invasive mute swan. And because he was not pressured by any re-election efforts during those two years, he wisely vetoed that proposed legislation.
But this year, with his re-election foremost in his mind, he caved to the pressure and signed that bill into law. The mute swan, for at least the next two years, receives substantial protection in New York.
The DEC for several years has been trapping and culling the swans. Mute swans are considered an invasive species by state wildlife officials. They were introduced in Americans from their historic ranges in Europe (primarily) and Asia. This new legislation adds “accountability” inspections.
The swans have proven to be a threat to native wildlife as well as to humans. They often become aggressive toward people, especially from the “cob” (male) when the “pen” (female) is on the nest and also when the mated pair are protecting the hatchlings (cygnets).
In the past, because of other pro-swan legislation, the DEC has performed a survey every three years to inventory the mute swan population. If that population is considered to be too high, biologists capture and euthanize specific, limited numbers of the birds in order to keep the population within scientifically acceptable limits.
Make no mistake about the majority of DEC wildlife biologists and the mute swan issue. If the scientists were allowed, the entire population of these destructive, dangerous birds would be eliminated. Furthermore, their elimination would open important habitat for both the (relatively common) tundra and (threatened) trumpeter swans. Both of these species are native to North America.
It is the DEC’s management plan for this unwanted species that actually caused this most recent legislative problem. Wildlife biologists had planned to trap and euthanize large groups of mute swans from various locations across the state. Some of those birds called Prospect Park in Brooklyn their home, and the humans living in that area took exception to that plan. Enter State Senator Tony Avella, of Queens, who introduced the legislation.
The state’s Assembly and Senate both passed the proposed legislation, with at least some of them convinced that the governor would once again veto it. And Cuomo, who until now had blocked the swan protection effort, citing other ways to change the DEC’s procedures, had indeed vetoed previous bills.
But with his re-election fast approaching, things change.
This new legislation makes it much more difficult to euthanize the wild swans. The DEC must now hold two public hearings and provide clear scientific evidence that links the swans with environmental damage prior to any culling efforts. And these requirement will remain in place for the next two years.
Friends and neighbors, this situation is unacceptable, despite all the smiling politicians. And it could easily be only the tip of the dragon’s snout, to use an old game warden’s phrase. There are already efforts afoot to gain similar protection for other noxious species, both foreign and domestic.
The monk parakeet, more recently renamed the Quaker parrot, is a prime example of another exotic species running (flying?) amok within the U.S., and currently well established in N.Y. and many other states.
But there are efforts afoot, primarily within urban areas, to give this species full protection. Some even want it added to (and protected by) the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
But in its native South American haunts, it is widely labeled as an agriculture pest, and rightly so. This smallish member of the parrot family, which lives in a large communal “colony” nest, has the nasty habit of landing on a fruit such as an apple, taking a bite, then flying to another similar fruit where it takes another bite, and so on. A single flock of these birds will decimate an entire orchard in just a few hours. It has many other “bad” habits, too. Should N.Y. protect it?
The common pigeon, widely known now as the “rock dove,” is another candidate-in-waiting for protection at the hands of urban-minded folks. It originated in Europe and is a pest known for carrying several diseases as well as leaving its “calling card” droppings behind wherever it frequents.
But in some city environs, it may be one of only three or four species of birds that people see (and often feed), hence the move to protect it.
There is no room for politicians to insert themselves into any aspect of wildlife management. Whenever they do get involved, they only muddy the waters and cause the experts to get more gray hairs.
And people must understand that wildlife managers are actually serving everyone when they attempt to eradicate or at least control all invasive wild species.
Len Lisenbee is the Daily Messenger’s Outdoors Writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.