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Cats and Wildlife

Every cat deserves a safe home where it is loved, cared for and kept free from hazards.

Cats Safe At Home

Indoor cat - Peter Breen
Photo by Peter Breen

Every cat deserves a safe home where it is loved, cared for and kept free from hazards. Yet thousands of cats die in local shelters each year and tens of thousands of stray and feral cats roam our urban landscape vulnerable to a variety of risks and preying on our native wildlife. Cats Safe at Home TM seeks to address the challenges associated with cat overpopulation in the Portland Metropolitan Area in a humane and environmentally responsible manner.

Vision: A healthier urban landscape where all cats are safe at home, resulting in a safer and healthier environment for both cats and wildlife.

Goal: To reduce free-roaming, stray and feral cat populations in the Portland Metropolitan Area using strategies that are good for both cats and wildlife.

Our Approach: Read an in-depth account of Portland Audubon's approach to cats, written by conservation director Bob Sallinger.

Overview

More than 200 species of birds utilize the Portland Metropolitan Region for some portion of their annual life cycle. This includes breeding, migratory and wintering populations. Consistent with trends nationwide, approximately 25 percent of these species are experiencing significant long-term population declines. This includes not only species listed as threatened or endangered, but also many species that we still take for granted such as Rufous Hummingbirds, Mourning Doves and our state bird, the Western Meadowlark. The primary cause of reduced bird populations is habitat loss and fragmentation, but other causes of mortality such as window strikes, pesticides, and predation by introduced species adds to the pressure on birds. This can be especially true in urbanized areas where birds are concentrated into smaller and smaller habitat patches.

There are many reasons to care. Our region has worked hard and invested hundreds of millions of dollars in creating ecologically sustainable and healthily landscapes for people and for wildlife as well as in engaging the community in stewardship of the natural world. Regardless of whether a species is endangered, threatened, declining or still healthy, our community values its wildlife and wants to see it protected and healthy. Reduction of free-roaming, stray and feral cat populations across the landscape is consistent with that objective.

While free-roaming, stray and feral cats can have an impact on native birds and other wildlife anywhere on the landscape, it is recognized that some limited locations, such as designated wildlife areas and natural areas, should be prioritized for reduction of existing cat populations and prevention of establishment of new populations. On the rest of the landscape, longer-term strategies such as educational outreach, spay and neuter programs and Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR) programs are appropriate.

Things are different here... Cat advocates and bird advocates working together

When it comes to cats and birds, conflict has the been the name of the game, and cat advocates and bird advocates in cities across the nation have engaged in an increasingly tense debate over how to address cat over-population. This is not the case in the Portland Metro Region. Our animal welfare and wildlife advocacy organizations have a long history of working together, and we are proud that we have found common ground on this difficult issue. We recognize that both cats and birds have value and we have worked hard to develop a variety of strategies to address cat overpopulation challenges in ways that are both ecologically responsible and humane. Some of the things we are trying will be controversial – they will run counter to the traditional rhetoric espoused by one side or the other in this debate. However, we believe that new strategies, new ideas and new collaborations are necessary to make real progress that has eluded cat and wildlife advocates for more than a century. We are learning as we go and we are sure course corrections will need to be made, but we are committed to moving forward together on this issue to find solutions that are good for cats and good for wildlife.

Strategies

Indoor cat 2 - Peter Breen
Photo by Peter Breen

The following are some of the strategies we will be using in this effort.

  • Cats Safe at Home TM: Promoting responsible pet ownership focused on keeping cats from roaming – the most important thing we can do in both the short and long term to protect our pets and reduce predation on wildlife.
  • Landscape-scale reduction of cat overpopulation: Promoting reduction of free-roaming, stray and feral cat populations through a variety of methods including spay and neuter programs, Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR) and shelter-based strategies.
  • Removal of cats from designated natural areas and designated critical habitat areas: Recognizing that certain locations have been set aside specifically for wildlife and prioritizing those locations for removal of free-roaming, stray and feral cats.
  • Safeguards for property owners who want to protect wildlife on their land: Maintaining nuisance laws that provide property owners/managers with effective, legal methods to address cats that come onto their property.
  • Indemnity for native predatory species that may prey upon free-roaming, stray and feral cats: Impacts on free-roaming cats should not be recognized as a legitimate basis for the trapping, relocation or lethal control of native predator species such as coyotes and raccoons. 
  • Responsible management of feral cat colonies that minimizes the risk of attracting, habituating and otherwise impacting native wildlife populations: Promoting Best Management Practices (BMPs) that reduce the risk of attracting wildlife populations to cat feeding areas in order to minimize risk of habituation of wildlife, disease transmission, and creation of wildlife nuisance situations such as unnaturally large congregations of wildlife populations.
  • Scientific research and adaptive management: Ongoing, rigorous assessment and evaluation of our impacts both on the ground and on the behaviors and perceptions of the public around this issue.

Media referencing the Portland-Metro Region's efforts to reduce cat over-population:

"Kill the Cat That Kills the Bird?"
Bruce Barcott | New York Times | May 2, 2007

"Cats & Birds"
Oregon Field Guide | 2009

"The Truth About Cats and Birds?"
Andrew Revkin | New York Times | June 2, 2009

"Pet Talk: Cats and birds would benefit from plan to keep cats inside, two groups say"
Monica Balas | The Oregonian | March 22, 2011

"Working together to find solutions to cat, bird struggle"
Bob Sallinger and Karen Kraus | Portland Tribune | February 16, 2012

"Cat Fight"
John Carey | Conservation Magazine | March 2012

"Creature Feature: Prowling the Divide" (PDF)
Julie Falconer | Sheltering Magazine | July 2012

"The Outdoor Cat: A New Beginning?"
William Lynn | Ethics and Interpretation of Public Policy | December 21, 2012

"Must Cats Die So Birds Can Live?"
Jessica Pressler | New York Magazine | June 2013

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