Stop Killing the Chesapeake's Mute Swans
By Montel Williams
The silver swan, who living had no note,
When death approached, unlocked her silent throat;
Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
Thus sung her first and last, and sung no more:
“Farewell, all joys! O death, come close mine eyes!
“More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.”
— Orlando Gibbons
What will the next scapegoat be, after mute swans are gone [“Deeply Divided Panel Backs Eradication of Mute Swans”]? Is there another bird or animal in line to pay the toll for what people are doing to the Chesapeake Bay?
Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is waging a senseless war against a beautiful bird, the mute swan, which state biologists blame for the destruction of the bay’s underwater vegetation. Federal biologists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service disagree, saying it’s unlikely that the swans or any other grazing birds could do the damage Maryland wants to pin on them. And never mind that the birds are one rare bit of beauty that is surviving while the bay itself is dying.
I grew up in Baltimore, graduated from the Naval Academy. The bay was a big part of my life, and I want to see it thrive. Killing mute swans won’t do that. It will only take away one of the remaining beautiful things on the bay. And for the swans, the end may not be far away. Less than 10 years ago, there were about 4,000 of them on the bay. Today, there are fewer than 500. But the killing goes on.
The mute swans’ biggest problem is that they don’t have much political clout. So they’re taking the fall for the real reason the bay’s vegetation is dying off — pollution from industrial agriculture and sewage treatment plants. What does Maryland do about that? It kills a few thousand swans. It doesn’t make much sense, but it’s way easier than doing what really needs to be done — controlling the 500 million tons of pollutants that factory farms and sewage plants dump into the bay every year.
That’s right — half a billion tons of pollutants a year. Chemical compounds that are not only killing off vegetation faster than any swans could ever do but that are also creating “dead zones” in the bay where nothing lives. Pesticides, fertilizers, sewage and other pollutants have destroyed what once was one of the richest fisheries in the world. Oysters and crabs are both seriously depleted, and the grass beds that supported them have been reduced by 85 to 90 percent over the past 50 to 60 years. But the pollutants that caused this destruction were put there by people who have serious political clout, who have lobbyists and who make big political contributions. Meanwhile, the DNR devotes 12 people to extirpating mute swans in the name of helping the bay. Does that make even a tiny bit of sense?
Even if the swans were causing serious problems, there are ways of dealing with them, non-lethally. And groups such as the Humane Society of the United States, which has a lot of experience helping communities control such problems, would help make it happen. The offer has long been on the table. But Maryland’s not interested. Because the political deck is stacked against the swans, and in favor of the business and agricultural interests that might be harmed if the state tackles the real causes of the bay’s demise.
The miracle is that in the wake of all the destruction that has been inflicted, the mute swan has, in very small numbers, graced our bay with some of the beauty that has been lost to wholesale changes and destruction. No one is going to improve the bay by eliminating the grace and beauty of mute swans. The only thing that can change the course of this misbegotten, outrageous campaign is for people to speak up — not just public personalities, but the many thousands of others who love the beauty of mute swans swimming on the bay, who love the bay and want to see it thrive again.
It’s not just about saving the swans. It’s about saving the bay.
Getting that done will require aiming at the right target. With the right public pressure, I am confident that Gov. Martin O’Malley will save mute swans and the bay.
| June 1, 2009; 2:11 PM ET
Categories: Chesapeake Bay, environment, wildlife
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