Let’s say there are a couple of animal species that are causing trouble in New York state.
Both species are non-native, invasive species, meaning they were brought here or migrated here from another part of the world, and their behavior and habits are destructive.
Both animals behave aggressively toward other animals, as well as toward humans; both destroy habitats that are important to native wildlife.
And both are being targeted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation for, let’s not mince words here, slaughter.
Now imagine that one of these species has had thousands of people rally to its defense. The other species, meanwhile, had people lining up to kill it already until the DEC told them to hold their fire.
Why the difference? One of these animals is nice to look at. The other isn’t.
Sure, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But most people would agree that mute swans are prettier than Eurasian boars. (If you don’t believe us, go ahead and Google them.) And that completely superficial distinction would seem to be enough reason for more than 2,000 people to sign a petition urging the governor to halt the DEC’s plan to eliminate the state’s wild mute swan population.
Marlene Feuerring of Water Mill, on Long Island, is one of those speaking up for the mute swan — the animal equivalent of the high school cheerleader in this duo.
“I think they are magnificent. I love them,” said Feuerring. “They would all be heartbroken if these swans were shot.”
We don’t know what Feuerring’s thoughts are about the Eurasian boar. But we’ve never heard the word “magnificent” applied to one. And strangely, the DEC’s plans to hunt these swine via helicopter and shoot down any that it sees have not met with the same type of outcry.
To be fair, some of the objections to the DEC’s swan eradication plan are grounded in science, not in aesthetics. Some have questioned the agency’s assertions about how much damage the swans truly cause to their environment, noting that the population of about 2,000 birds is relatively small.
But even those who speak out against the plan on scientific grounds still seem to find it necessary to note the swan’s majesty, grace and dignity — as if those qualities make it any less harmful to the environment.
It’s ridiculous to suppose that the state should be making decisions such as this based on an animal’s looks and bearing. If there is to be a debate about the DEC’s swan management plan (which, for now at least, is focused on downstate areas), let’s make sure we stick to the science.