Only 115 pairs of the endangered piping plover are left on Cape May, New Jersey beaches. They nest there during the summer. Because they nest on the ground, they are vulnerable to predators, including wild house cats, foxes and other animals.
Cape May’s beaches also have a population of feral cats that are being cared for by local volunteers in a trap, neuter and release program.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service originally wanted the feral cat colonies moved back a mile from the beach to keep the cats from injuring or killing the birds. Cat lovers said this would have meant eliminating all feral cats from Cape May and they dug in their heels and resisted. This led to a compromise proposal to move the cat colonies at least 1,000 feet from the beach, and a half-mile from areas already identified as plover nesting grounds.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said it was skeptical of the compromise and is considering withholding millions of dollars in federal sand replenishment funds for the beach. This has the town in a huge tizzy … pitting the local bird lovers against the local cat lovers against the Cape May City Council.
The plovers start returning to Cape May to nest around March 15, so that doesn’t leave much time to decide what to do.
Residents of the city are split down the middle on this. The city received 600 e-mails in one day from local cat lovers against moving the cats. But the New Jersey Audubon Society is equally distressed. Cape May is one of the prime bird-watching spots in all of North America. The World Series of Birding is held there every year.
Similar debates are being held in many communities across the country. Cat lovers in Benicia, California, want to feed feral cat colonies that live in local marshes around the city to keep them from starving to death. Members of the local Audubon Society would prefer that they didn’t because they kill wild birds and other wildlife.
How does this get resolved? Should birds die so that cats might live? Or vice versa? Is there a compromise solution that would make both sides happy and keep cats AND birds alive?