NY Feral Cat Bill Attracts Unusual Alliance of Opponents

Posted on The Birding Wire, June 10, 2015

Who saw this one coming? We can't remember the last time we've seen birding-watching and conservation groups, sportsmen's and hunting organizations, and even a radical animal rights outfit on the same page on a single issue. But in New York, the fur is beginning to fly – and it's all about feral and free-roaming cats and whether the state should fund the so-called Trap, Neuter, and Return (TNR) programs as a means of controlling their population.

Legislation has passed the NY State Assembly by a unanimous 139-0 vote and the Senate Finance Committee to allocate an estimated $200,000 annually for community-based efforts across the state to "trap, neuter, vaccinate and return feral cats to the area where they were trapped." The money would be generated from a fund established by dog-licensing fees.

Hunters have plenty of experience with the destructive nature of feral and free-roaming cats to ground-nesting gamebirds as well as small mammals. And in recent years, prominent bird conservation groups have been increasingly vocal in efforts to educate cat owners about the need to their keep pets cats indoors at all times.

The New York legislation is sponsored by Assemblyman John McDonald D-Cohoes, (AB 2778) and Sen. Kathy Marchione, R-Halfmoon (S 1081).

David Figura, the longtime outdoors writer for the Syracuse Post Standard, reported June 1 that critics of the companion bills include People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Audubon New York, the New York State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) and the New York State Conservation Council, which advocates for hunters, anglers and sound environmental practices.

If representatives of these groups gather 'round a table at dinnertime, one can only speculate what might appear on the menu.

New York Audubon distributed an alert to its members and supporters last week, noting that each year, feral and free-roaming domestic cats kill more than two billion birds in the U.S., and they don't discriminate between songbirds, game birds or endangered species.

"Next to habitat loss, cats are the leading cause of bird declines, according to the North American Bird Conservation Initiative's 2014 State of the Birds report," according to the NY Audubon alert. "As populations of feral cats increase in the state, so do the threats to birds, other wildlife and public health."

Without amendments to the bill to prohibit TNR from Bird Conservation Areas and other habitat for Species of Greatest Conservation Need, Audubon New York said it is strongly opposed to the bill and that its passage would increase threats to many priority species in The Empire State.

Multiple studies from reputable groups like American Bird Conservancy and The Wildlife Society indicate that TNR is ineffective at reducing feral cat populations, feeding cats does not eliminate their instinctive hunting behavior, and even when cats do not directly kill wildlife, their mere presence has been shown to reduce nesting success of birds.

Meanwhile, in Albany, the catfight is on.

- J.R. Absher - See more at: