And over the pond are sailing
Two swans all white as snow;
Sweet voices mysteriously wailing
Pierce through me as onward they go.
They sail along, and a ringing
Sweet melody rises on high;
And when the swans begin singing,
They presently must die.
Life is imitating art here in Michigan, as over the past few months the state has officially declared war on mute swans.
Their crime? They are an “invasive species.” (Picture of mother and her cygnets at right by Richard Meston, in an article by the Daily Mail)
Of course, the agency involved, the Natural Resources Commission (which oversees the state Department of Natural Resources), didn’t use that terminology. Rather, the official records refer to mute swan “management”, and the swans’ “negative effect on submerged aquatic vegetation.” The DNR staff refers to input from the “Mute Swan Forum” of 16 “interested groups and agencies” (those wanting to know who was consulted in reaching this decision will search the DNR website in vain for any reference to this forum).
Although the DNR has been attempting for years to reduce the population of (in the words of the state's Audubon Society Director of Conservation) these “non-native, aggressive and invasive” creatures, the recent recommendations ratchet up the effort by providing two additional weapons to the agency. Its goal is to slash the swans’ population--estimated by state officials to be 18,000--to 2,000 by the year 2030. The plan would remove these animals on both public and private lands in the state.
This recommendation was adopted by the NRC in a 3-2 vote at its February 2011 meeting:
The Wildlife Division recommends that the Wildlife Conservation Order no longer allow rehabilitation of mute swans. Returning any mute swans to the wild is counter to the overall need to reduce the population of these non-native birds. The second recommendation is to remove the need for written approval for designated partners to assist the Department in the removal of mute swans when beneficial to Michigan’s natural resources; however, verbal permission would still be necessary.
Let’s analyze the new conservation order. In a recent article, DNR's wildfowl specialist Barbara Avers discussed just what population reduction can include:
'In order to reach our long-term goal, we are going to have to remove more swans from the population.' And by 'remove,' Avers acknowledges the DNR means kill. This 'removal' of swans from state land will be the DNR’s first priority. In an attempt to have no mute swans there, Avers said the DNR will employ a combination of methods including nest destruction, oiling eggs, and even shooting mute swans. Other acceptable methods of killing include euthanasia with drugs or cervical dislocation.
The order also bans wildlife rehabbers from helping mute swans. Its rationale doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The DNR says that to rehab and release any mute swans to the wild “is counter to the overall need to reduce the population of these non-native birds.” Yet testimony at the NRC hearing indicated that the number of swans rehabilitated and released are only about 40 in any given year.
And consider the regulations that had been in place before the recent draconian amendments. They had put stringent conditions on rehabilitators to make sure the swans being cared for would not reproduce, including obtaining a veterinarian’s certification that they couldn’t fly. They had to “render any resulting eggs incapable of hatching” with the permit subject to revocation “upon evidence that the mute swan has successfully reproduced.”
Shortly after the ban was put into effect, its implications were brought home to a community near Ann Arbor, where a number of concerned citizens spotted a female swan and had been feeding her organic lettuce and corn. (picture of the swan, often seen with an icicle hanging from her beak, by Lisa Allmendinger, AnnArbor.com)
A state-licensed rehabber with the Bird Center of Washtenaw County said at the time, 'I’m kind of numb because the decision is so new. I’m praying that someone doesn’t call me about a swan,' noting that she could lose her license if she did anything but euthanize a sick or injured mute swan.
This rehabber’s concerns were echoed by others including one who has been tending to swans for 16 years. Most of the injuries are caused by people:
'It’s telephone wires, it’s fish hooks, three pronged hooks that are really in the tongue. Sometimes in a cygnet’s belly.' So – she says it wouldn’t be right to just let nature take its course. And she says mute swans have a right to be here. 'The swans, after about 200 years, they are a part of this country.'
Some rehabilitators also worry that they’ll lose the public’s trust. 'They bring birds to us, people come in almost in tears. And they’re almost embarrassed they’re caring about a bird, but this is something that’s alive. So we see them one at a time, whereas the DNR is looking at populations.'
Those who analyze the relationship between human and non-human animals have found the concept of “The Other” to be useful. First used in philosophy but adapted to historical and political analysis, economics, feminism and queer theory, the idea of an “other” in opposition to “self” is used to demonize, and as a rationale for exploiting those seen as Others. And, it would seem that the mute swans are being cast as Other even compared to other wildfowl. As Others, the sick or injured among them can no longer be tended to; they are to be rounded up and killed.
Note: The mute swan rehabbers and other advocates have not given up. They have a petition "Stop the Killing of Mute Swans in Michigan; more information is available on Swans Voice Face Book page.
Published by firstname.lastname@example.org on 04/07/2011 20:54:00
Modified by email@example.com on 04/07/2011 21:54:52