Friday, March 7, 2008

Advocate Alert Update: Cape May Moving Stray Cats Off The Beach

March 5, 2008

Cape May moving stray cats off the beach

1,000-foot buffer to keep birds safe


Having learned a lesson about the birds and the beach, Cape May acted Tuesday to protect both by keeping cats away from them.

After nearly a year of conflict that pitted cat lovers in this Victorian seaside resort against bird lovers in one of North America's prime bird-watching spots, the City Council approved a plan to move feral cat colonies 1,000 feet away from the beach.

The move was necessary to protect endangered shore birds like the piping plover and the least tern, both of which nest in the sandy ruts on Cape May's popular beach.

Because the birds are considered to be endangered, federal environmental officials threatened to withhold Cape May's federal beach replenishment money if the city refused to protect the birds.

"It's important to protect our beaches," said Councilwoman Linda Steenrod. "At the same time, it's important to protect life. That means all life. I think we have a good compromise."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had wanted feral cat colonies banned within one mile of the beach — something that would have eliminated all wild cats in Cape May. The compromise calls for a 1,000-foot buffer zone from known bird nesting grounds, while letting the city continue its trap, neuter and release program.

That program has cut Cape May's wild cat population from 450 to about 100 over the past decade.

Becky Robinson, president of Alley Cat Allies, a national cat advocacy group based in Maryland, said Cape May's cat control program is a worldwide model.

"To hold beach replenishment money over the heads of a city that has done everything right is simply misguided," she said.

About 40 cat-lovers picketed outside city hall before Tuesday's vote, chanting, "Feral cats won't go away. Revise the plan and let them stay."

Melissa Holroyd, who has trapped 53 wild cats since November and paid to have them neutered, said the compromise is a good one.

Deputy Mayor Neils Favre said the compromise leaves the door open for either the city or federal or state wildlife officials to revisit the plan if it needs to be changed.