SWAN Wars

By Edie Johnson

After an unusually hot Summer left most area ponds and lakes with a thick cover of toxic algae, most of our area’s swans have left for cleaner waters.  Efforts to clean these waterways with environmentally safe treatment dropped to a low priority with the COVID crisis, with most of the lakes being privately owned and everyone struggling just to complete daily activities. A few that have fountains which discourage algae have remaining swan families. But sadly, many of this year’s cygnets (baby swans) perished due to  toxic cyanobacteria.

Meanwhile, swan advocate and protector Sharon Scheer (AKA The Swan Lady) desperately went from lake to pond trying to check on their safety, and asking for help from state wildlife officials and the DEC. Swans are extremely sensative to environmental changes and as such are an important indicator of the health (or lack of it) of a region.  Just when she had made some headway with verbal agreement on some new state swan policies, COVID came, and priorities scattered.

This year during her checks of swan families at Walton Lake in Chester, Orange Lake in Monroe, Lake Hildegard in Blooming Grove, Brown’s Pond in Campbell Hall and Greenwood Lake in Warwick and across the border into Sussex, what she found was numerous nesting moves and lack of young,  It’s not unusual for swans to move their young once they are half grown and starting to fly, but this year some faced much more urgent dangers than usual, including the algae and some very irresponsible boaters and jet skiers.

The swan families barely survived,  At least one of the two swan families in Campbell Hall were not able to hatch their eggs. Another may have sought safety from the increasing stench of the marshland.  Lake Hildegard in Blooming Grove (also privately owned), which had thriving swan populations each of the past 18 years had a pair in the rushes where they usually nest in early Spring, but they then disappeared.  Even IF the lake environment was not toxic enough to kill them, it has likely killed all of it’s food resources. Orange Lake had a successful nest, but has been tested positive for coliform. 

Unfortunately there are reasonable economic solutions, but at present not the will to implement them.   A company called “Lake and Ponds Works Pond and Lake company he can  come in and uses phoslock and its a natural clay product that binds the phosphorus.Phosphorus is what seeps from lawn treatments …laundry…and septic systems. (800 305-3277)

Encroachment Brings Grave Danger

But at Greenwood Lake all hell broke loose when buoys were missing that keep water recreation enthusiasts away from the shore.  First a pontoon boat nearly drowned the nest and its very young inhabitants. Just when it seemed like attempts to educate the lake visitors were making a difference jet skiers zoomed through the channel at high speeds and terrified the cygnets, prompting Dad Swan to flap his wings in an attempt to make them back up. It became a daily war zone, and Sharon Scheer came out daily to protect them while seeking warnings from DEC and area police who told the ‘agitators’ that swans are protected, and harming them is illegal. Scheer sat in her boat for hours protecting them. The Greenwood Lake Commission made a unanimous decision to remove the swans from Greenwood lake due from being provoked.  Last week the situation became even more urgent when the boaters tried to have the swans labeled as “aggressive” and in need of “culling”. It would not have been the first time that swans have been “harvested” because of a man-made problem.  Ms. Scheer wept daily throughout the week and when they disappeared for 5 days was convinced that they had been killed.  But on Sunday, after searching every nook and cranny of the Lake she found them hiding in a remote cove.  The swans had taken the matter into their own hands.

New buoys were placed last week to keep the shoreline protected and all of the jeopardized swans are safe for now, but a Swan Protection Bill that is just about ready to sign in Albany will need to become law in order for  their very precarious safety to last. This bill will also be needed to be pushed at the local level.

Caption:  Swans went to hide in a cove to get away from boaters and jet skiers who were harassing them and trying to have them “culled” due to aggressive behavior that the people incited

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