Letter: Mute Swan Controversy Based on Shoddy and Non-Existent Studies


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Dear Editor:

I read the article about Mute Swans being an invasive species in your recent article by Julia Werth, dated May 19, 2020.

The article is filled with misinformation that has been discounted by current research and international swan and wetland habitat specialists. Furthermore, the information cited has been shown through research to be based upon shoddily conducted or non-existent studies.  I would like to have ample time to set the record straight. I have also included at the bottom of the page, my credentials regarding Swans.

1.      There has never been any environmental impact assessment conducted regarding Mute Swans in the United States nor any collaborative count of Mute Swans.  At the 2014 International Swan Symposium, U.S. and state wildlife officials admitted to this lack of research.  Without this scientific research, the Mute Swan’s designation as an invasive species has been arbitrary and capricious.

2.      Due to this lack of research, New York Department of Conservation (NYDEC) officials were required by state lawmakers to cease the control and killing of Mute Swans under a 2 year moratorium until they could provide reliable valid scientific research showing that the Mute Swans were detrimental to the environment. As of this date, the NY DEC has failed to provide any such scientific justification for the killing of the Mute Swans.

3.      To say that the Mute Swans destroy sub-aquatic vegetation (SAV) to the detriment of macrophytes and displace other waterfowl is also erroneous. Recent studies show that the Mute Swan’s feeding habits increase the biodiversity of macrophytes and other waterfowl species. Dabbling ducks and other such waterfowl are attracted by the Mute Swan’s feeding habits which bring SAV to the surface, thus increasing an additional food source for species that cannot feed below the surface.

4.      Scientific research (current and previous) has been ignored by federal and state wildlife officials showing that Mute Swans are an indicator/sentinel species. This means that Mute Swans’ presence, absence, and health status alert scientists to problems in the environment such as the presence of heavy metals and harmful microorganisms.

5.      There has also been controversy surrounding the designation of Mute Swans as non-native because ancestral Mute Swan fossils have been found in North America.  Due to research regarding previous land bridges and adaptive radiation, scientists are now reevaluating the concept that Mute Swans are non-native.

6.      The purpose for removing the Mute Swan from U.S. waters was a concerted effort by hunters, federal and state wildlife officials to introduce Trumpeter Swans into areas that they never inhabited for Trophy Waterfowl hunting purposes.  Trumpeter Swans are being introduced throughout the U.S. and it has been scientifically shown that Trumpeter Swan cygnets eat double the amount of sub-aquatic vegetation than an adult Mute Swan. So, if Mute Swans are supposedly causing damage to sub-aquatic vegetation, how is it that the Trumpeter Swans which eat double the amount of SAV are being introduced by federal and state wildlife officials?

7.      Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), no swan can be hunted except the Tundra Swan by indigenous people of Alaska. This portion of the MBTA was ratified in 1992 when President Clinton and all members of the Treaty signed off on this hunting exception. Yet, federal wildlife officials allowed indigenous tribes in Minnesota to begin hunting Trumpeter Swans in 2017. Immediately following this initial hunt, hunters began asking if the Trumpeter Swan numbers were adequate to open the species for general hunting.  Remember, this hunting was allowed by federal and state wildlife officials after they repeatedly assured the U.S. taxpayer that the main purpose for introducing Trumpeter Swans was not for Trophy Waterfowl hunting.

8.      The MBTA Reform Act of 2004 was never ratified, meaning that NO member of the Treaty ever consented to having Mute Swans removed from protection. The removal of the Mute Swan from protection was included in an Omnibus bill in 2004.  Congress does not have the right to change (decrease) any protections of a Treaty, only the Senate, the President, and members of the Treaty. This ratification never occurred, and the removal of Mute Swan protection was falsely sold to the American taxpayer as a legally binding act.

This means that U.S. and state wildlife officials having been operating under a moot law since it never legally existed and are therefore in violation of removing the Mute Swan from protection under the Treaty, arbitrary and capriciously killing Mute Swans and the allowing of any species of swan to be hunted. Finally, this introduction of the Trumpeter Swans and killing of Mute Swan has cost the taxpayers billions of dollars since its inception in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s.

A Michigan state DNR official admitted at the 2014 International Swan Symposium, that the state’s funding was being depleted, that the Mute Swan killing program was financially unsustainable, but the state was still going to continue the program at taxpayer expense.  Taxpayers should be livid that each state is spending taxpayer funds for a “non-financially sustainable program” in which funds could be better spent for other infrastructure and clean water issues. These are the irrefutable facts based upon current research regarding Mute Swans. 

Sheila A. Bolin, M.S.
The Regal Swan Foundation, Inc.