Assemblyman Cymbrowitz Files Foil Request with DEC for Answers on Upstate Swan Slaughter

July 1, 2018

After writing to the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) about the slaughter of a family of mute swans in upstate New York, Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Brooklyn) has filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to find out why the incident occurred and whether similar incidents have taken place since his legislation prohibiting DEC from killing the swans was signed into law in late 2016.

On June 18th, an entire family of mute swans – two adults and four cygnets -- in Oneida, NY was killed by U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife staff after a kayaker reportedly complained to state DEC about an “aggressive” male swan. In a scathing letter to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, Assemblyman Cymbrowitz expressed his outrage that DEC is deliberately circumventing the no-kill law by directing a federal agency to exterminate mute swans on its behalf.

“As the prime Assembly sponsor of the legislation, signed into law in 2016, imposing a two-year moratorium on the State’s extermination of mute swans until an acceptable management plan is in place, I find it outrageous that DEC is actively circumventing the ban by enlisting another agency to kill the birds,” he said. “This deceptive behavior violates the spirit of the moratorium and, equally important, erodes any shred of trust that the public may place in DEC to act appropriately and humanely regarding the mute swans.”

In the same letter, Assemblyman Cymbrowitz also expressed concern about the apparent disappearance of seven mute swans from Prospect Park Lake. The lawmaker is currently awaiting a formal response from DEC.

On Friday, Assemblyman Cymbrowitz filed a FOIL request for copies of all complaints to DEC leading up to the slaughter of the mute swan family on Oneida Lake. He also asked for DEC's written authorization enabling the U.S. Department of Agriculture to exterminate the swans, and documentation detailing how the slaughter was carried out. Finally, he asked for an accounting of any and all incidents dating back to November 2016 – when the legislation was signed -- in which DEC exterminated mute swans or instructed an agent to act on its behalf.

Assemblyman Cymbrowitz said that he’s received dozens of calls and emails from animal activists all over the state, including people who live near Oneida Lake. “One caller said that people witnessed the Department of Agriculture staff rounding up the swans and everyone was screaming at them to stop,” he said. “Another caller said the adult male swan had been living on the lake for over 10 years and this was his first set of cygnets. He was just protecting his young.”

“My legislation very clearly prohibited DEC from killing New York’s mute swans. In no way did we suggest that it’s acceptable for DEC to hire a contract killer to do its dirty work,” he said.