Governor’s Press Office
Governor Ehrlich Authorizes DNR to Implement Mute Swan Management Plan
ANNAPOLIS, MD (April 21, 2003) - Demonstrating his commitment to preserving the integrity of the Chesapeake Bay’s fragile ecosystem, Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. today authorized the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to implement a statewide mute swan management plan.
“It has been my intention from the start of this Administration to guide policy decisions based on science,” Governor Ehrlich said. “The overwhelming evidence shows that mute swans contribute to the deterioration of the Bay by consuming its vital submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV). Failure to act now would be simply irresponsible.”
Bay grasses are an important part of the Chesapeake Bay's ecosystem. Not only do bay grasses improve water quality, they also provide food and shelter for waterfowl, fish and shellfish. For example, research has shown that the density of juvenile blue crabs is 30 times greater in grass beds than in unvegetated areas of the Bay.
“This plan is the product a two-year process with public input from several advisory committees and hundreds of citizens,” said DNR Secretary C. Ronald Franks. “Mute swans are a nonnative species that are disrupting the overall restoration of the Bay. The current population of 3,600 birds is eating 10.5 million pounds of SAV each year.”
Scientists believe that the current population, which contains many sub-adult swans who will begin to breed at the age of three years, is on the verge of an exponential increase in numbers. This population, left unchecked, could reach 20,000 birds by 2010.
“The plan provides a responsible, multi-tiered approach that is grounded in science, and flexible enough to adapt to new challenges and information,” Franks added. “It will help us meet our responsibility to restore ecological balance in the Chesapeake estuary.” The plan addresses the large population of mute swans in the Chesapeake Bay, with the ultimate goal of managing the mute swan population at a level that minimizes impacts to native wildlife and their habitats, is consistent with the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, and minimizes conflicts between swans and people.
“Left unchecked, Maryland’s mute swan population, which has grown from five birds to nearly 4,000 birds over the last 40 years, will continue to expand, threatening the limited supply of bay grasses,” DNR Wildlife & Heritage Service Director Paul A. Peditto said. “This would have a damaging effect on the health of the Chesapeake Bay and the native species, from shellfish to waterfowl, that depend on this critically-important resource.”
The Department has concluded that the current population of mute swans is causing adverse ecological impacts including: driving out nesting native waterfowl and in one case trampling nests and eggs in a nesting colony of least terns and black skimmers, both state-threatened species; the removal of SAV during the fall and spring when bay grasses are reproducing; and the destruction of SAV restoration and replanting sites. These impacts will increase as the swan population continues to grow, and may significantly interfere with the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement goal of restoring 114,000 acres of SAV. The aggressive behavior of mute swans also causes problems for people, sometimes preventing them from using waters or shoreline near nesting swans.
The plan’s strategies include:
- outreach to citizens to gauge public knowledge, perceptions and values of mute swans, and to provide education;
- excluding or removing all mute swans from ‘swan free areas’ to afford protection to habitats critical to the Bay’s living resources; this may involve lethal control in areas where ecological damage is occurring and non-lethal methods are ineffective or impractical;
- reducing the mute swan population as quickly and efficiently as possible, consistent with activities to protect, restore, and enhance the Bay’s living resources;
- preventing further mute swan population growth by continued egg addling;
- annual monitoring of the population;
- preventing mute swans’ access to certain sensitive habitats in the Bay;
- conducting additional research to assess impacts of mute swans on Bay resources;
- strictly regulating captive possession, sale, importation, breeding, and trade; and
- providing resolution to conflicts between humans and mute swans.
“This is a complex issue with no easy solutions. Mute swans are beautiful birds and are appreciated by many people. However, the grave danger that mute swans present to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem requires that we take action,” Peditto said. “We plan to continue an aggressive egg addling program to limit the addition of young swans to the population. In many situations, removal of birds by shooting or lethal injection by trained wildlife professionals will be necessary. Both methods are considered to be humane.”
Mute swans are native to Europe and Asia. Mute swans from Europe were introduced to estates and parks in the eastern United States beginning in the 19th century. Some swans eventually escaped or were released and have established breeding populations in several East Coast states. Maryland’s population of mute swans originated when five birds escaped from captivity in Talbot County in 1962. Currently, about 3,600 mute swans are found in the Bay and its tributaries. They are now established in all major tributaries to the Maryland portion of the Bay.
To read the full mute swan management plan: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/msfinaltoc.html
Posted April 24, 2003