New York State
Ornithological Association

For the birders and birds of the Empire State

ConservationPosted 2/15/13
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Feral Cats—a Continuing Problem
Andy Mason, NYSOA Conservation Committee Chair
Published in the Winter 2012-13 iissue of NY Birders

NYSOA's involvement in the issue of feral cats dates back at least to 2003 when the Conservation Committee wrote to Bernadette Castro, then Commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. We asked that the matter of cat feeding stations in state parks on Long Island and elsewhere in the state be addressed and that feral cat colonies be removed, particularly where endangered or threatened species were present.

It is well documented that feral cats pose a major threat to birds and other wildlife. The American Bird Conservancy estimates that free-roaming cats kill hundreds of millions of birds and a billion small mammals annually. Others say these numbers are too high, but there is no doubt that cats take a large toll. In proximity to habitat for threatened or endangered species, such as Piping Plover, Florida Scrub Jay, and others, the risk from feral cats is even greater.

Perhaps worst is the perpetuation of large cat colonies in state parks, places which should be a refuge for wildlife and often contain critical habitat for at-risk species. Feeding stations maintained by well-meaning citizens, and even by park personnel, keep cat numbers high and encourage drop-off of even more unwanted pets.

Our 2003 communications with the Parks Office had some positive effect. A policy of removing feeding stations and gradually eliminating feral cat colonies in the parks was drafted, with the intent of working with conservation groups, cat supporters, and park staff to reach these goals. However, the policy was never formally adopted, likely due to fear of backlash from the organized cat support groups and others who maintain feeding stations.

As a result, we continue to hear of large cat colonies in state parks, and these free-roaming animals continue to kill birds.

Most recently, the Conservation Committee contacted Parks Commissioner Carol Ash in 2010, asking that the agency revisit the feral cat issue. Commissioner Ash replied that surveys of colonies had shown that free-ranging cats were not as much of an issue statewide as previously thought, although there were colonies, particularly on Long Island, that were of particular concern. She stated that steps were taken to remove cats that were in proximity to at-risk species and habitats. Commissioner Ash also said that guidelines for feral cats were in place, but implementation was limited by Parks Office resources.

What you can do? Present Parks Commissioner is Rose Harvey. Contact Ms. Harvey and ask that she make the problem of feral cat colonies in NY's state parks a priority, and ask what present actions are being taken to protect threatened and endangered birds and other wildlife from cats in the parks. She can be contacted at: NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Albany NY 12238 or via their website, http://www.parks.ny.gov/about/contact-us.aspx.

 

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