By Victoria Cavaliere
NEW YORK, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Public outcry over a plan to kill off mute swans in New York prompted the state's Department of Environmental Conservation to pledge on Friday to revise the proposal and consider "non-lethal means" to control the wild swan population.
Revisions could include abandoning plans to eliminate the birds by various means or to poison their nests, the state's top conservation agency said.
The black-masked, long-necked white birds, associated with romance and fairy tales, were the subject of protest petitions, letters and comments that poured in to state wildlife officials after they declared mute swans an aggressive, invasive species that poses a threat to people and native animals.
"The draft plan for management for mute swans received significant public interest and DEC received many thoughtful and substantive comments," Commissioner Joe Martens said in a statement.
"The DEC will consider non-lethal means to achieve the management plan's intended goals," the statement said.
The conservation agency late last year announced a draft plan to eliminate by 2025 the state's entire population of wild mute swans.
Mute swans, with their graceful curving necks and orange beaks, have long been a symbol of love and, because they mate for life, fidelity.
The plan to cull the birds, which were imported from Europe and Asia in the 1800s to adorn estates and parks, met with strong opposition from animal rights groups, who argued that claims of the birds' being invasive or threatening the ecosystem are unfounded.
"This is a slippery slope for wildlife management in New York State, with the swans paying the ultimate price," the group Save Mute Swans said in a statement.
The Department of Environmental Conservation said it received 1,500 comments on the draft management plan from individuals and organizations as well as more than 16,000 form letters and 30,000 signatures on various petitions in a public comments period that ended on February 21.
After the revised plan is issued this spring, the agency said it will again open the proposal to public comment for a 30-day period.
Across New York state, there are about 2,200 mute swans, most of them clustered around New York City and its northern suburbs. (Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Gunna Dickson)