Swans Are Dying And Now We Know Why
By Edie Johnson
Last year dead swans were found in at least 3 lakes in our area. The first was found still alive in Lake Hildegard in Blooming Grove. Environmental activist Sharon Scheer was called by a resident in the neighborhood and when she arrived the swan’s head and neck were twisted and slumped onto its body. At first she thought it had been hit by a vehicle, but she couldn’t find any trauma to the body or blood. She and a wildlife rehabilitator brought it to a veterinarian, but it died by the next morning. Then there was a similarly posed swan at the Orange and Rockland Lake dam on the Monroe and Blooming Grove border. Then she found 4 more. Some were found in the same positions, others hanging from trees. They started connecting dots. The situation began to look critical when 10 or 11 more were found at Greenwood Lake in Warwick. With little luck working with the State’s DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation). The only test results they had on swans had been taken on dead swans, so there was no baseline for comparison. Sheer contacted a noted Swan biologist, Sheila Bowen at the Swan Institute and the Regal Swan Foundation, along with studies done at Montclair State University.
They found the smoking gun in frightening levels of both phosphorus and cyanobacteria. Sheer brought swans for necropsies, drove to Albany to speak to authorities about taking measures not only for improved safety for the swans, but the impacts on people swimming and fishing in the waters as well. Greenwood Lake’s South end had been closed last Summer due to algae blooms, but the North end was not. Similar concerns arose in Orange Lake where there is both boating and waterskiing. The levels of phosphorus and cyanobacteria were clearly dangerously toxic. In Switzerland, she says, every swan that dies has a necropsy done on them, BECAUSE they are not only one of the most loved avians, they are the most sensitive to environmental abnormalities, so if something is wrong with them we’d better take heed, because we will soon be next.
What to do? Sheer has been relentless in her efforts to talk to officials both at the local and state level. The owner of the waterskiing business at Lake Hildegard in Blooming Grove has said he is of course interested in testing the water for safety this Spring. Likewise, Warwick’s Supervisor Michael Sweeton recommended that she work with the Greenwood Lake Commissioner to resolve the problem there.
As for Lake Hildegard, where many local citizens look for the first sign of spring as the swan family brings out their cygnets, there is at least one swan still there giving us hope. Whether there is a mate and cygnets back in the reeds we don’t yet know. But Sheer is asking the residents to pull together for what is a very economical water test to ensure their safety, for their health and our enjoyment.