- The Washington Times - Friday, May 16, 2003

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland officials agreed yesterday to stop shooting mute swans, a bird imported from Europe that state officials believe is destroying valuable underwater grasses in the Chesapeake Bay.

Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said the state will honor a request from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to suspend the mute swan control program.

“It is a temporary request, I think,” he said.

But a letter from the federal agency to the state Department of Natural Resources asked Maryland to “give serious consideration to discontinuing activities under the permit and surrendering the permit.”

The letter noted that the Fund for Animals had filed suit saying that the department violated federal environmental policy when it issued the permit allowing the state to shoot as many as 1,500 swans. The federal agency needs time to consider issues raised in the complaint, said the letter from Diane Pence, chief of the division of migratory birds for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Michael Markarian, president of the Fund for Animals, said the federal decision is “a major victory for mute swans in Maryland.”

“Hundreds of these majestic, graceful birds have been saved from slaughter,” he said.

In a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service, Paul Peditto, director of the state Wildlife Heritage Service, said Maryland officials believe the permit “was thoroughly supported from a scientific perspective and that activity under the permit is necessary for the protection of the Chesapeake Bay.”

But the state agreed in the letter to stop shooting swans immediately.

Offices of both the state and federal agencies were closed and no one was available for comment last evening.

Mr. Markarian said if Maryland wants to resume killing swans, it will have to get a new permit. That would require an environmental study and a chance for the public to weigh in on the proposal, he said

“We are very pleased that the federal government took our legal case very seriously and recognized that there were some major flaws in its decision to grant this permit,” he said.

State officials say about 3,600 mute swans inhabit the Chesapeake Bay, all of them descendants of five pet birds that escaped into the wild in the early 1960s.

When the suit was filed by the Fund for Animals on Tuesday, Jonathan McKnight, associate director for habitat conservation for the Department of Natural Resources, said the mute swans eat an estimated 10 million pounds of underwater grasses each year.

“If we don’t act now, we believe that in 10 years we could have 20,000 mute swans in the Chesapeake Bay,” he said.

The department began shooting swans April 25. Fewer than 100 had been killed by Tuesday, Mr. McKnight said.

The DNR has tried addling, or shaking, eggs and coating them with vegetable oil to keep them from hatching, but Mr. McKnight said that would not be sufficient to keep the population from growing.

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