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Cause of swans' death still unknown

July 03, 2004|By RYAN C. TUCK

ryant@herald-mail.com

The results of a necropsy on the three City Park mute swans who died last weekend were inconclusive, said Paul Miller, executive director of the Humane Society of Washington County.

None of the birds showed acute trauma or signs of lead poisoning, but were sent to a national lab for further analysis, Miller said Friday.

But while Hagerstown officials search for answers, mute swans are drawing interest elsewhere. The birds are the subject of a legislative battle that may result in a Congressional law that would legalize the killing of the bird and 94 other species.

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The Maryland Department of Natural Resources applied for and received a permit last August from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to kill 525 mute swans in the Chesapeake Bay area.

The Fund for Animals then filed a lawsuit that caused the service to revoke the DNR's and every similar permit across the country.

Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the product of four international treaties, no state wildlife agency may legally kill a mute swan or other protected species without a specific complaint.

DNR officials said the swan destroys submerged aquatic vegetation and is hostile toward native habitats and species.

Michael Markarian, president of The Fund for Animals, said the report lacked specific evidence, which is required for a permit to be issued.

Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md., chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, introduced HR 4114, an amendment to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that would remove the mute swan and 94 nonnative species from the list of protected animals.

Already passed by the House Committee on Resources and the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the amendment would give state wildlife agencies the ability to control populations of the nonnative mute swan without a federal permit.

"It would set a horribly damaging precedent that an act of Congress could override an international treaty," Markarian said.

"There's no way that Congress could have intended for the (Migratory Bird Treaty Act) to apply to the (mute swan)," DNR Director of Wildlife and Heritage Services Paul Peditto said. "It's not migratory; it's not native."

Maryland's current mute swan population has grown to more than 4,000, Peditto said, figures Markarian called exaggerated.

City Park in Hagerstown is an example of an appropriate environment for mute swans if all is done properly, Peditto said.

The city had to clip the swan's wings, ensure the swans were same-sex pairs and post information on the swans' aggressiveness toward humans before they could purchase mute swans in 2002.

Humane Society officials ask anyone with information on the swan deaths to call 301-733-2060.

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