The US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) is accepting public comments this week on a dangerous plan that weighs the lives of select species against others in the Florida Keys —and will consequently send cats to their deaths.
Intended to protect local threatened and endangered wildlife species, the FWS’s draft environmental assessment misguidedly targets cats by misinterpreting and ignoring pertinent scientific research, disregarding Trap-Neuter-Return for feral cats as the approach that will protect the lives of all the Keys’ animals, and wholly failing to address the human threat to these species.
As animal advocates, we must defend the best interest of all animals equally. That means taking a hard look at what the major threats to species are and evaluating what we as humans can do to change the way our choices impact our environment. It also means protecting animals–all animals–from being killed.
The FWS report is extremely misleading to the public. While it dismisses a “lethal control” option for the cats—appearing not to subscribe to killing—the plan recommends trapping and removing the cats to a local shelter, which kills all feral cats who enter as a matter of policy.
So while this plan appears to require only the “removal” of feral cats, it is, in truth, a plan to kill.
In choosing this plan that values the lives of one species over another, the FWS’s plan failed to adequately consider Trap-Neuter-Return. This widely practiced humane approach would stabilize feral cat colony populations and would allow all species to continue to live out their lives outdoors.
And in rejecting Trap-Neuter-Return, the FWS misinterpreted and blatantly disregarded relevant scientific research. The Draft Assessment draws heavily on biased and flawed publications, while ignoring and misinterpreting other peer-reviewed field studies that prove the effectiveness of Trap-Neuter-Return in stabilizing feral cat colonies all over the country.
These studies include the research conducted by Dr. Julie Levy at the University of Florida, which followed a long-term TNR program and found that the colony population declined by 66% over 10 years.
Sadly, these are just a few of the mistakes, misinterpretations, and out-and-out falsities contained in the FWS plan.
They also erroneously single out PETA’s irrational opposition to TNR as representative of the animal protection community. The truth is that TNR is a nationally-accepted, widespread, life-saving practice supported by major animal protection organizations including Alley Cat Allies, ASPCA, and Best Friends Animal Society, as well as over 250 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations dedicated to feral cat care across the nation.
On top of all this, the FWS clearly has not learned from the abject failure and costly consequences of a previous catch and kill effort in the Florida Keys. In 2007, FWS entered into a $50,000 trap and kill contract in the Keys, which resulted in just 13 cats trapped, at least 5 of which were owned.
Meanwhile, the ORCat TNR program at Ocean Reef community in Key Largo has maintained a long-term, ongoing Trap-Neuter-Return program for feral cats for years. From a population of over 2,000 cats 20 years ago, today only about 350 cats are left—an 80% decline in colony populations, right there in the Florida Keys.
We value the lives of all species affected by this plan, but killing cats is not a solution—it’s a scapegoat for the problems people have caused. Habitat loss, urbanization, pollution and environmental degradation kill millions of animals per year, especially in sensitive ecosystems like the Florida Keys, where continual development has negatively impacted water quality and habitat acreage.
By blaming innocent animals and not addressing human impact, the FWS plan forfeits any real chance at successfully protecting endangered species.
The FWS draft environmental assessment can’t be allowed to go forward as written.
The public comment period for the plan is still open, but only until February 3. Contact the Fish & Wildlife Service through Alley Cat Allies’ Action Center and tell them you want a new plan that values and protects the lives of all the animals of the Florida Keys. Speak up now, before some are silenced for good.
Becky Robinson is the founder and president of Alley Cat Allies, a national advocacy organization dedicated to transforming and developing communities to protect and improve the lives of cats.