Fish & Wildlife Service seeks to leghold trap & shoot feral cats

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2008:
VENTURA–“The U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Service is proposing to use padded leg traps and
hunters to eradicate 100 to 200 feral cats now
living on U.S. Navy-owned San Nicolas Island to
protect endangered species,” Ventura County Star
reporter Scott Hadly revealed on June 6, 2008.
“Dogs also would be used to flush out some of the
harder-to-catch cats, according to the plan.
The cats would be shot or given a lethal
injection on the spot,” Hadly wrote.
14,000-acre San Nicholas Island, 60
miles off the California coast, is part of a
U.S. Navy sea test range. The only human
residents are Navy personnel. The Fish &
Wildlife Service contends that the habitat is too
rugged and inaccessible for neuter/return cat
control to be practicable, and that the cats are
much too wild to be tamed for possible adoption.

The cats, reportedly on the island for
more than 50 years, are blamed for killing
Brandt’s cormorants, western gulls, deer mice,
and two federally protected threatened species,
western snowy plovers and island night lizards.
“Because the wild cats are hunters, they compete
for scarce food with the native island fox, also
a threatened species,” wrote Hadly.
The Fish & Wildlife Service proposal to
trap and shoot cats was immediately opposed by
Humane Society of the U.S. feral cat program
chief Nancy Peterson, but she had only until
June 17, 2008 to rally opposition–unless the
Fish & Wildlife Service is persuaded to extend
the comment period.
[Details of the cat-killing plan were
posted to <>.
Comments could be e-mailed to
<>, or could be sent by
conventional mail to Jane Hendron, U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, 6010 Hidden Valley Road,
Carlsbad, CA 92011.] “The plan comes just a few years after
the controversial eradication of rats and pigs on
Anacapa and Santa Cruz islands,” recalled Hadly.
“The National Park Service points to the campaign
as a success and says it helped in the recovery
of several near-extinct native species.”
But the killing put the Channel Island
foxes on the endangered species list, as the
remains of pigs, sheep, and goats, also shot
on the islands, attracted golden eagles. When
the carrion ran out, the eagles hunted the foxes.
The proposed San Nicholas Island cat
killing followed a strategy of authorizing
hunters to kill “harmful nonnative species,”
including cats, which would become enshrined as
National Wildlife Refuge system policy if federal
bill HR 767 slips through the 110th Congress
before it adjourns.
Pushed by the American Bird Conservancy,
HR 767 in October 2007 unanimously cleared the
House of Representatives and the Senate Energy
and Natural Resources Committee before ANIMAL
PEOPLE brought it to the notice of the national
animal advocacy community.
HR 767 was then assigned to the Senate
Committee on Environment & Public Works, where
it has remained.
“We’re lobbying the Senate committee on
the bill,” HSUS senior vice president for
legislation Mike Markarian told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
“I’ve been talking with the Senate
staffer on the Environment & Public Works
committee who has been assigned to HR 767,”
added Alley Cat Allies legal fellow Will Gomaa.
“She says there are no plans to move on HR 767
soon, and the bill hasn’t really come up. If
that changes, you can be sure we’ll alert our
supporters to take action.”
The San Nicolas island cat killing
proposal asserts that exterminating cats on
islands off Mexico, Australia and South Africa
has had immediate positive results for seabirds,
but the actual evidence is questionable.
Recently explained New York Times science
columnist Henry Fountain, “The predator-prey
relationship is simple, right? If a predator is
around, that is bad for the prey, and if the
predator is removed, that is good for the prey.
“Ecological theory, however, suggests
that isn’t always the case, particularly if there
is more than one predator species around and they
share the same prey. In that case, elimination of
the top predator may allow the midlevel predator
to thrive, and the result may actually be worse
for the prey.”
For example, Fountain continued, “Matt
J. Rayner of the University of Auckland and
colleagues found such a case on Little Barrier
Island,” off New Zealand. “They studied the
impact of two predators, feral cats and kiore,
or Pacific rats, on a small burrowing seabird,
Cook’s petrel. Kiore were introduced to the
island hundreds of years ago, and cats were
introduced in the 1870s. Both preyed on the
petrels, with the cats also preying on the rats.
Both were eventually eradicated, the cats in
1980, the rats in 2004.
“The researchers analyzed data on petrel
chick survivability from 1972 to 2007,” Fountain
wrote. “As they report in The Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences, removing the cats
actually made life worse for the petrels, since
that left more kiore to prey on them. Only when
the rats were eliminated did petrel breeding
success increase.”
Another fiasco resulting from
exterminating cats has occurred on Robben Island,
off Cape Town, South Africa. A hunter hired by
the South African National Park Service shot the
island cat population down from more than 100 to
just two as of February 2007. Without cats to
hunt feral rabbits on the island, the rabbit
population soared from about 3,000 to more than
5,000 within the next year. The rabbits have
eaten so much vegetation that about 150 fallow
deer, 20 springbok, and two bontebok on the
island are reportedly at risk of starving.
“The management of Robben Island has
given Searl Derman, owner of the Aquila private
game reserve, the go-ahead to capture and remove
the starving antelope so that the degraded
grazing can recover,” Cape Argus reporter Eve
Vosloo wrote on June 8, 2008.
Gough Island, in the South Atlantic,
never had any cats. “Today, the British-owned
island, described as the home of the most
important seabird colony in the world, still
hosts 22 breeding species and is a World Heritage
site,” summarized Guardian environment editor
John Vidal on June 9, 2008. “But as a terrible
consequence of the first whalers making landfall
there 150 years ago, mice stowed away on the
whaling boats jumped ship and have since
multiplied to 700,000 or more on an island of
about 25 square miles. What is horrifying
ornithologists is that the British house mouse
has somehow evolved, growing to up to three times
the size of ordinary domestic house mice, and has
become a carnivore, eating albatross, petrel
and shearwater chicks alive in their nests. They
are now believed to be the largest mice in the
Listing two Gough bird species as
critically endangered and five others as
threatened, Birdlife International and the Royal
Society for the Protection of Birds have
“proposed hiring helicopters to drop thousands of
tons of rodent poison on the volcanic island
2,000 miles off the coast of South America,”
Vidal added.
“We think it could be done fairly easily,
and would cost about £2.6 million,” a
spokesperson for the plan said.
The notion of poisoning the Gough Island
mice gained momentum from a June 7, 2008
proclamation by the National Trust of Scotland
that a three-year poisoning onslaught has
extirpated rates from the Isle of Canna, off the
Scottish coast. The 15,000 resident sea birds,
of 14 species, were said to be threatened by
10,000 rats, about 20 times as many as the
typical sustainable ratio of predators to prey.
“In 2005, the trust brought in a
team of pest-eradication experts from New
Zealand,” explained Raphael G. Satter of
Associated Press. They laid out 4,388 traps.
Some 25 tons of rodenticide were shipped in to
arm the traps” or about five pounds per rat if
there really were 10,000 rats.

Nesting habitat

While cats and rats most often take
the rap, “Managing deer to suit hunters may be
the major cause of vanishing songbirds,” ANIMAL
PEOPLE suggested in March 1997, citing the
overlap of record high deer populations with
reported songbird declines throughout the
Deer overgrazing nesting habitat had just
begun to be recognized as a problem. Now
increasingly abundant elk are doing the same
thing in Rocky Mountain National Park, but in a
different way, Jeff Connor of the Rocky
Mountain Bird Observatory warned a conference of
park biologists in April 2008. At issue,
Connor explained to Steve Lipsher of the Denver
Post, is that elk are eating so many replacement
shoots that the aspen many birds depend upon for
nesting sites are not regenerating at adequate
“More than one-fifth of the trees used by
birds such as woodpeckers, northern flicker and
mountain chickadee fell during a 10-year study
that ended in 2006,” summarized Lipsher.
“Researchers found 108 of 550 trees with cavities
[suitable for nesting] had fallen between 1997
and 2006, and others couldn’t be found, Connor
The major natural predators of elk are
wolves, but wolves spreading south through the
Rockies from the Yellowstone region have yet to
reach Rocky Mountain National Park. “In the
absence of major predation, park officials have
initiated a controversial effort to test a
birth-control drug on the elk and plan to begin
killing as many as 200 of the animals next
winter,” Lipsher wrote.
In urban habitat, “Most ecologists have
assumed that common nest predators–such as house
cats and raccoons –destroy eggs or kill young
birds in greater numbers than in rural areas,”
but this appears to be incorrect, explained Ohio
State University School of Environment and
Natural Resources publicist Jeff Grabmeier in an
April 2004 summary of findings by OSU associate
professor of wildlife ecology Amanda Rodewald.
Rodewald found by monitoring nests that
“predators weren’t the main problem,” Grabmeier
said. “Urban areas had more predators, such as
raccoons, compared to rural areas. But these
predators did not raid nests more often,
Rodewald said. Instead, urban birds “arrived
later in the spring, left earlier in the fall,
made fewer nesting attempts, and were much less
likely to return to nesting spots from year to
Added Rodewald, “There is something
about these urban forests that strikes the birds
as unsuitable. Even when they try nesting, they
are less likely to renest after failure or to
return in subsequent years.”
Rodewald and wildlife ecology graduate
student Daniel Shustack published their findings,
funded by the National Science Foundation and the
Ohio Division of Wildlife, in the Journal of
Animal Ecology.

Other threats to birds

High Country News recently compared
causes of violent avian deaths, using data
gathered by the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S.
Fish Wildlife Service, and the American
Ornithologists’ Union. The leading cause, by
far, turned out to be collisions with reflecting
windows and lighted buildings, killing about
half a billion birds per year. Collisions with
power lines, killing 130 million birds per year,
was second, followed by cat predation, killing
about 100 million birds per year, and collisions
with cars, killing about 80 million.
Avian roadkill is believed to have
steeply increased in recent winters in the
Cascade mountains of western Washington and parts
of Canada, Wenatchee World staff writer Rick
Steigmeyer reported in February 2008, citing
data gathered by retired U.S. Forest Service
wildlife biologist Heather Murphy, Wenatchee
Valley College biology professor Dan Stephens,
and members of the Upper Basin Birders, of
Leavenworth, Washington.
The cause of the winter avian roadkill
increase may be intoxication by the liquid
magnesium salt deicer often added to the calcium
chloride salt used to make mountain highways less
slippery in winter. Ground-feeding birds such as
finches ingest the deicer while pecking road grit
to fill their gizzards, the researchers believe.
The problem has worsened with increased human
population and winter vehicle traffic in the
regions where the rise in avian roadkills has
been observed.
The American Bird Conservancy, whose
founding issue was antipathy toward neuter/return
feral cat control, is now emphasizing other
threats to birds. The conservancy, represented
in court by EarthJustice, scored a significant
regulatory victory in February 2008, when the
U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of
Columbia Circuit ordered the Federal
Communications Commission to seek ways of
reducing the estimated toll of five to 50 million
birds killed each year in collisions with
communication towers.
But the American Bird Conservancy’s
Project PredatorWatch survey “is still collecting
information to help determine the extent of
predation on birds at bird feeders across
America,” reminded conservancy publicist Steve
Holmer. Project PredatorWatch has since December
2006 collected more than 860 reports from birders
who claim to have found evidence of predation at
their feeders.
“In 2008,” said Holmer, “ABC’s new Cats
Indoors Campaign coordinator Grant Ellis will
collaborate with scientists at the Cornell Lab of
Ornithology to compile, analyze, and report the
findings. The study will, among other things,
cover the number of bird kills Project
PredatorWatch has recorded, and the relative
percentage taken by different predators.”

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