Science and Conservation Organizations Send Letter Supporting Florida Keys Predator Management Plan

Reddish Egret. By: Ashok Khosla
Reddish Egret. By: Ashok Khosla

(Washington, D.C., February 16, 2011) American Bird Conservancy, the nation's leading bird conservation organization, and 27 additional science and conservation organizations have signed a letter to the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuge supporting their plans to remove cats and cat feeding stations found on refuge lands in the Keys because of the harm they are causing to birds and other wildlife, including endangered species. The Refuge released its intention to control cats, a highly efficient non-native predator, in its new Draft Integrated Predator Management Plan Environmental Assessment for the Florida Keys.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deserves credit for bringing the best available science to bear on the management of exotic predators inhabiting National Wildlife Refuge lands regardless of the emotional aspects of the issue,” said Steve Holmer, Senior Policy Advisor for American Bird Conservancy. “Given the overwhelming evidence of harm to native birds inhabiting and migrating through the Keys, this predator management plan offers hope for healthier environment.”

The letter points out that cat predation accounted for 50% and 77% of mortality of two endangered species — the Lower Keys Marsh Rabbit and the Key Largo Woodrat. Roaming cats reduce wildlife abundance and diversity, cause extinctions of native bird populations, and kill as many as one billion birds per year in the United States.

The Florida Keys are important stopover habitat for neotropical migrants. Many of these birds fly from as far away as South America and need a place to rest and feed after crossing the Gulf of Mexico. Over 250 species of birds inhabit the Keys, including species of concern such as Great White Heron, Reddish Egret, Brown Pelican, Piping Plover, Wilson's Plover, Roseate Tern, White-crowned Pigeon, Bald Eagle, Osprey, and Northern Harrier.

The letter highlights the threat of disease and effect of feral cats on human health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, free-roaming cats not only threaten wildlife through direct predation, but also serve as vectors for a number of diseases including rabies, cat scratch fever, hookworms, roundworms, and toxoplasmosis ( Some of these diseases can be transmitted to other domestic animals, native wildlife, and in some cases, humans.

The conservation groups also agree with the available scientific literature that demonstrates that Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) programs for feral cats will not reduce cat predation of wildlife and are ineffective in eliminating feral cat colonies. Further, the groups support the statement that “TNR practices are prohibited on National Wildlife Refuges, and violate the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act because they may result in the direct harm of protected species.”

The signatories also commended FWS for its effort to build partnerships and bridge differences in the local community and support the goal of “no homeless cats”, which was the outcome of the local consensus-building process that led to the proposed action in the environmental analysis. By involving the local community in this fashion they believe the predator removal project can succeed.