- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 4, 2005

The decision on whether mute swans will regain protected status or if Maryland can kill 4,000 of the birds now rests with a federal judge in the District.

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan will consider the case after hearing arguments Friday by plaintiff Humane Society of the United States and defendant U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The removal of the swans from agency’s protected list had cleared the way for Maryland’s plan to kill thousands of the birds.

The animal-rights group contends the agency’s decision to revoke protection for the mute swan and other birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Reform Act of 2004 violated international conventions protecting the birds.

The case is the latest in a series of lawsuits by animal-rights activists since Maryland two years ago proposed killing most of its 4,000 mute swans, majestic but invasive birds targeted for ravaging the Chesapeake Bay.

?The case is certainly focused on Maryland but it has implications for mute swans across the country and 100 other species they also removed from the list,? said Jonathan R. Lovvorn, the vice president of the humane society.

The end of protected status also permits anyone to kill mute swans without federal penalties.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials could not be reached for comment.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Reform Act revised 87-year-old federal protections so that only native fowl, not bothersome foreign or exotic birds, are covered. The act was a response to legal conflicts about how to deal with mute swans in places such as Maryland.

The state’s wildlife officials blame the exotic swans for tearing up the Bay’s ecosystem and endangering indigenous wildlife, such as Maryland’s native tundra swan.

The swans, originally from China, have spread throughout the world since the 1800s. Their numbers grew steadily in Maryland for two decades, with little consequence to the environment or Eastern Shore residents, but by 1999, the population exceeded 3,000, and conflicts with humans and the habitat developed.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources planned to kill nearly all of the birds, and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. endorsed the plan, saying the swan-reduction program was based on science, not politics.

However, after about 100 birds were shot, the plan was delayed in the fall of 2003, pending the resolution of a lawsuit brought by the Fund for Animals and several Eastern Shore residents. Subsequent lawsuits have kept the plan on hold. The Humane Society and the Fund for Animals merged in January.

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