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Lawsuit To Save Swans

An environmental group filed suit Tuesday against the Interior Department to prevent it from issuing permits for state biologists along the East Coast of the United States to shoot thousands of mute swans over the next decade.

The Fund for Animals, a New York-based advocacy group, claims in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that the Fish and Wildlife Service permits would illegally allow the "slaughter" of two-thirds of the mute swans in 17 states.

"It started issuing permits without specifying where the swans will be killed or where the swans are causing damage. Federal laws must mean more than just a rubber stamp," said Heidi Prescott, the group's national director. Her group says more studies and public comment were required under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

The suit was filed a day after the state of Maryland won permission from Fish and Wildlife to kill hundreds of mute swans, a non-native bird that entered the United States from Europe two centuries ago.

Maryland officials say the birds are destroying Chesapeake Bay habitat by eating underwater grasses and crowding out native birds, while the Fund for Animals says the birds are scapegoats for the bay's environmental problems.

Fish and Wildlife spokesman Nick Throckmorton said his agency's studies warranted issuing a permit to Maryland. "It's the first invasive species that has received federal protection. ... We'll comply with whatever a judge rules on this case."

The Atlantic Flyway Council recommends the 2002 population of 14,000 mute swans be reduced to 3,000 by 2013.

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