Graceful menace: States take aim at non-native swans

With its snow-white plumage and elegant posture, mute swans are exalted in European ballets and fairy tales as symbols of love and beauty. But to many wildlife biologists, they are aggressive and destructive invaders in U.S. habitats and must be wiped out.

Native to Europe, the mute swan has multiplied in New York, the upper Midwest and along the Atlantic coast since it was imported in the 1800s to adorn parks and opulent estates. Citing threats to native wildlife, plants and unwary humans, six states now have swan-removal policies that range from egg-shaking to shooting or gassing adult birds.

New York is now on the third draft of its anti-swan program. While less lethal than the original 2013 plan calling for eliminating all of the state’s free-ranging mute swans by 2025, it has nonetheless drawn angry squawks from animal lovers who just want the birds to be left alone.

“We abhor the plan,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Connecticut-based Friends of Animals. “We think it’s attitude, not good science, that’s driving their agenda.”
Most of the state’s estimated 1,700 mute swans are in the New York City area, with a smaller population on Lake Ontario. Like zebra mussels and Asian longhorned beetles, mute swans are classified in New York as nuisance invaders. Biologists say they deplete and damage aquatic vegetation with their voracious feeding, leaving less food and cover for other waterfowl and fish.

Unlike North America’s native tundra and trumpeter swans, mute swans—named for being less vocal than other swans—aren’t migratory, have orange rather than black bills and hold their necks in graceful S-curves. They’re also far more comfortable around humans, gliding regally across urban ponds with gray offspring trailing dazzling white parents.

“I see them in Prospect Park when I walk my dog or run,” said Jane Seymour, a Friends of Animals employee who lives near the Brooklyn park that has about a dozen mute swans. “People get close to them and take pictures. They really are an attraction.”

But there is an ugly side. Michigan’s wildlife agency calls mute swans “one of the world’s most aggressive waterfowl species,” attacking native trumpeter swans, loons, ducks and other waterfowl. The agency says it gets reports every year of mute swan attacks on canoeists, kayakers and people who get too close to shoreline nests.

The mute swan population in Michigan rose from 5,700 to over 15,000 in just 10 years before management efforts were launched to keep the population and ecosystem damage from ballooning further. The plan there aims to reduce the population to less than 2,000 by 2030.

Maryland wildlife personnel have killed hundreds of mute swans on Chesapeake Bay to protect aquatic plants and native waterfowl. Wisconsin, with about 600 mute swans, has a goal of statewide elimination through shooting adult birds and shaking eggs so they don’t hatch. Indiana, Ohio and Minnesota have similar mute swan reduction policies.

Legal battles over state-sponsored mute swan eradication programs led to congressional action that allowed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the bird from federal protection in 2005.

New York’s mute swan proposal has brought a deluge of protest, prompting the Legislature to pass a bill putting any action on hold for two years and requiring the state to provide more scientific justification for its plan, minimize any killing and hold public hearings. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill last fall after rejecting two previous versions.

“Wildlife management can present challenges in trying to balance conflicting interests, such as when a beautiful bird can have harmful impacts,” said Basil Seggos, commissioner of New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

The latest swan-reduction plan allows killing of swans upstate that can’t be captured and relocated to facilities where they’ll be confined with clipped wings. Downstate, it emphasizes population control by damaging eggs.

State efforts to eliminate mute swans have public support, albeit less vocal than the opposition.

“People fall in love with them; they don’t understand the broader implications,” said Bill Conners, an IBM retiree in the lower Hudson Valley who’s active in fish and game organizations. He said the state’s professional wildlife biologists should be allowed to manage the species as they see fit. “They are pretty birds, but they don’t belong on the landscape here.”

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Changes in Precipitation Patterns Influence Global Natural Selection

Climate variation plays key role in evolution of plants and animals in the wild

What matters more for the evolution of plants and animals, precipitation or temperature? Scientists have found a surprising answer: rain and snow may play a more important role than how hot or cold it is.

Rainfall and snowfall patterns are changing with climate variation, which likely plays a key role in shaping natural selection, according to results published today by an international team of researchers.

Twenty scientists from the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia contributed to the study. Their results were published in the journal Science.

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Second Chance for Lost Galapagos Tortoises?

Researchers are trying to recreate an extinct species of the lumbering reptiles by breeding closely related species that contain traces of the lost lineage’s DNA.

Giant tortoises that once inhabited the Galapagos Island of Floreana may get another chance at existence, thanks to the efforts of researchers working to recreate a close genetic facsimile of the species by breeding together related species that contain traces of the extinct reptiles’ DNA.

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Wild deer should be killed en masse to help woodland birds survive

Wild deer should be killed on a massive scale if people want thriving populations of woodland birds like the nightingale, willow tit and lesser spotted woodpecker, an ecologist has claimed after a study laid bare the dramatic effect they can have on forests.

Researchers used a laser scanner to create incredibly detailed, three-dimensional images of 40 different woodland areas in the Weald and the Welsh Marches.

They found areas with a high population of deer had 68 per cent less under-storey foliage than forests with relatively low levels, according to a paper in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

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France to ban sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040

President Macron’s government is moving to consolidate the Paris climate deal despite the US withdrawal

In what is being hailed as a ‘revolution’ on France’s roads, the government said on Thursday that it plans to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by the year 2040.

The announcement was made as part of a series of measures for the environmment.

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Old fish few and far between under fishing pressure

Like old-growth trees in a forest, old fish in the ocean play important roles in the diversity and stability of marine ecosystems. Critically, the longer a fish is allowed to live, the more likely it is to successfully reproduce over the course of its lifetime, which is particularly important in variable environmental conditions.

A new study by University of Washington scientists has found that, for dozens of fish populations around the globe, old fish are greatly depleted — mainly because of fishing pressure. The paper, published online Sept. 14 in Current Biology, is the first to report that old fish are missing in many populations around the world.

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The garbage spot in the Pacific frightens with its scale – expert

Recently, a new discovery of a massive amount of plastic floating in the South Pacific was shocking. It is yet another piece of bad news in the fight against ocean plastic pollution. This patch was recently discovered by Captain Charles Moore, founder of the Algalita Research Foundation, a non-profit group dedicated to solving the issue of marine plastic pollution, tells National Geografic.  

“The garbage spot in the Pacific, which was recently discovered, scares with its scales. Its area is 2.5 million square meters. These are frightening figures and this is just what we happened to see. The oceral picture of the actual scale of pollution is still outside the field of view of mankind. Mankind is rapidly breaking down the planet and its inhabitants. According to the study “National Geografic” from 2014, in the World Ocean there are 5.25 trillion plastic particles with the total weight of 269 thousand tons. It is believed that the natural way of plastic decays for 450 years. These figures are frightening. Plastic in soil and water carries a huge threat to nature and wildlife. It becomes a reason for the death of many terrestrial and marine animals. The problem lies with each of us, from the plastic manufacturer to its consumer. This is a huge problem that must be solved at all costs” – told Alexandra Batiy, vice president of Eastern Europe Association of the Greens.

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What are pesticides doing in our eggs

In case you missed the news this week, here’s what we know so far: during the first week in August, the Dutch food safety authority (NWMA) announced that they discovered tens of thousands of eggs contaminated with fipronil – a toxic anti-lice pesticide, banned in food production in the EU. Dutch and Belgian police have made arrests at the homes of buyers of the fipronil-laced pesticides.

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Earth Overshoot Day: From this day on we’re using an unsustainable amount of the Earth’s resources

Today marks Earth Overshoot Day – the day by which the human race will have used more of Earth’s natural resources than the planet can renew in the whole year.

Put simply, we use more ecological resources and services than nature can regenerate and this puts the Earth on an unsustainable trajectory.

Through overfishing, overharvesting forests, and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than forests can sequester, humans are demanding more from the earth than it can produce.

Every natural resource that we use from this day – 2 August – onwards is in effect unsustainable in the long term. Over the course of a year we use 170 per cent of the world’s natural output.

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US will join climate talks despite quitting Paris accord

The US State Department has officially informed the United Nations it will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, but has left the door open to re-engaging if the terms improved for the United States.

The State Department said in a press release the United States would continue to participate in United Nations climate change meetings during the withdrawal process, which is expected to take at least three years.

“The United States supports a balanced approach to climate policy that lowers emissions while promoting economic growth and ensuring energy security,” the department said in the release.

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