||[07 Apr 2005|09:27pm]
Cat hunting season? Now that's an idea that'll make fur fly
The state considers an open season on stray felines, believed by some to be depleting the bird population.
By ERIN CRAWFORD
REGISTER STAFF WRITER
March 29, 2005
Some Wisconsin hunters have taken aim at a new target: common housecats.
The state is considering a proposal to classify cats as an "unprotected species," which would allow hunters with a small-game license to take as many of a stray's nine lives as they please.
A member of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, an advisory group to the state's Department of Natural Resources, proposed an open season on cats as a way to reduce roaming, or feral, cat populations that are believed by some to seriously deplete the state's wild bird population. In April, the Conservation Congress will hold spring hearings around the state, where it will decide whether to advise the DNR to pursue such a change.
In neighboring Iowa, cats kill some birds, but loss of habitat is the bigger problem, said Doug Harr, wildlife diversity program coordinator at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
"We actually have a large number of species of birds in decline in Iowa," Harr said. "Birds have one of the greatest number of declining species of all the forms of wildlife in Iowa . . . We have reason to be concerned about our bird populations, and feral cats are one of the reasons."
But Harr doesn't think shooting cats that wander the countryside would be an effective means of population control.
The solution, he said, lies in owners being responsible by spaying or neutering their animals and keeping them indoors.
Those in Wisconsin who don't like to see kittens through a gun scope have banded together.
"We're never going to get the ferals out," said Ted O'Donnell, a Madison pet store owner who runs an opposition group and maintains the Web site www.DontShootTheCat.com. O'Donnell would like to see cat populations controlled through spaying and neutering.
"Short of genocide, you won't get them all. You'll be perpetually shooting cats . . . and I'm not sure how that would affect our image" as a state.
The pro-bird side of this fight quotes statistics, such as the Wisconsin study that showed that between 47 million and 139 million songbirds are killed each year by free-roaming cats in the state.
The man who proposed the new policy, 48-year-old firefighter Mark Smith, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying, "I get up in the morning and if there's new snow, there's cat tracks under my bird feeder. I look at them as an invasive species, plain and simple."
Experts say feral cats also harm bird populations in Iowa.
"Cats are the No. 1 killer of songbirds," said Linda Thomas, president of the Big Bluestem chapter of the National Audubon Society in Ames. "That's above running into glass and power lines."
"You can't take Mother Nature out of the cat. They will lie in wait. When people put in feeders, we suggest they not be too close to hedges or bushes."
The problem could be getting worse in Iowa. The Animal Rescue League of Iowa has seen a dramatic increase in the number of cats being turned in to the agency. Cat and kitten intake increased from a total of 3,805 in 1998 to 6,569 animals in 2004, an increase of 73 percent , although it's unknown whether more cats are being born into the wild or being released and becoming wild - the definition of feral.
Tom Colvin, executive director of the rescue league, said one of the best solutions is a movement called "trap, neuter and release."
"From personal observation and conversation, a lot of dog owners have grasped the importance of spaying and neutering, and less so with cats," he said.
At the heart of this issue is the practice of keeping a cat outdoors. Generally, hunters and bird lovers, including the Audubon Society, are against keeping cats outdoors unless they are kept in an enclosure. Those in favor of outdoor cats include many rural residents, who argue cats play an important role on farms; pet owners with cats that prefer outdoor life; and libertarian types who don't like anyone telling them where they can put their cats.
Leaders on both sides of the Wisconsin movement are already receiving death threats.
It seems plenty of people don't want to see pussycats killed faster. Birds, one might say, are for the birds.
"Most birds will get away," O'Donnell said.
"It's unfortunate the bird died . . . but it's not hurting the population."
Petition Against Hunting Cats: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/797408228