- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 20, 2003

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland officials are proposing a hunting season for the first time to keep the beautiful but annoying mute swan population down.

In a letter to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials, the state Department of Natural Resources recommended hunters control mute swan populations in the years ahead, after state biologists and technicians shoot up to 1,500 of the birds.

Maryland officials want a federal permit to kill almost half of the state’s 3,600 mute swans. They say the birds are an invasive species, crowding out other birds and eating millions of pounds of aquatic grasses vital to the Chesapeake Bay’s health.

Mute swans are distinguished from other swans by their bright orange bills. Officials say a hunting season for the birds would require approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is at least two years off.

“We’re still a long way off from a hunting season,” said Jonathan McKnight, associate director of habitat conservation for the Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Heritage Service.

The state hopes to begin shooting mute swans next month, once federal officials review the environmental impact such shootings would have in Maryland and 16 other states along the Atlantic Flyway.

Opponents of the shootings say there’s no reason the swans should be shot. Maryland’s plans have prompted two federal lawsuits and a petition drive this spring by animal activists who say the birds are being made a scapegoat for the Bay’s problems.

“They’re trying to kill all of them,” said Wanda Morton, one of three Eastern Shore landowners who sued to prevent the killings.

North Carolina and Virginia have hunting seasons for tundra swans, but no state has a mute swan hunting season.

“I’ve been told [tundra swan is] a very good meat,” said Anna Seidman, a spokeswoman for Safari Club International, a Tucson, Ariz.-based group that advocates a hunting season for mute swans.

Mr. McKnight said details of the hunting season, including its length, “bag limits” and restrictions similar to those imposed on duck and geese hunters have yet to be resolved.

He also said a mute swan season would give landowners the chance to remove the birds from their properties, something that’s now prohibited by federal law.

Allowing landowners to hunt the swans would be less expensive than requiring state biologists to get federal permits to do the job every few years, Mr. McKnight said.

“It’s just a degree of efficiency for us,” he said.

Those opposed to the shootings wonder whether anyone would hunt birds so widely admired for their beauty and such easy targets.

“A good sportsman isn’t going to shoot a bird that comes right up to you,” said Patrick Hornberger, a Talbot County landowner who has been leading efforts to save the birds.

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