Maybe right year for cat control

By Steve Estes

It’s been about six years now that Monroe County has known it will have to find a way to address the issue of free-roaming cats on Big Pine and No Name Key.

And it’s been about six years the county has ignored that issue.

During the early 2000s, the county, the State Departments of Community Affairs and Transportation worked on a deal with the US Fish and Wildlife Service aimed at managing growth on Big Pine and No Name Key to reduce impact on the endangered species, particularly Key Deer and Lower Keys Marsh Rabbits, that call the islands home.

Part of that deal was supposed to be an agreement by the county to initiate a feral cat trapping program to reduce the number of domestic predators on the islands that could impact the slow-moving, nocturnal rabbit.

Language mandating that program apparently did not make it into the final documents the groups signed, and the county has hung its hat on that oversight for half a decade as a reason not to spend the money to implement a feral cat trapping program.

County officials had a golden opportunity to implement just such a program this year when it was forced to hire a new animal control contractor for the Middle Keys, but left a program out of the eventual scope of services, instead just asking bidders to outline how they might conduct such a program and never mandating implementation.

Cost to implement a trapping program, both in manpower and care for trapped animals, has always been one of the stumbling blocks to the county establishing the program.

In the middle 200s, when reserves were being tapped all-too-frequently to balance budgets and then the national, state and local economy tanked on the backs of the bursting housing bubble, that argument carried a good deal of weight.

But that argument becomes weaker with each passing month.

Last budget year, the county was able to lower many property taxes, the fund from which animal control is paid, while still putting about $6 million back into its reserve coffers. That’s a move that made most of us more comfortable.

But that high-dollar item isn’t part of this year’s budget, and even though the property tax rate is proposed to be down again and collections are anticipated to be $3 million less, the county staff  has still managed to put some niceties back into its budget proposal.

Staff has recommended nearly $500,000 to restore lost library days and hours. It has recommended $250,000 for the renovation of Sugarloaf Fire Station, and is setting aside $250,000 for outside legal fees to fight a growth management mandate from USFWS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency that could put the county on the hook for over $1 million in the next three years.

Those are all good moves and probably necessary.

Staff also submitted an across-the-board five percent salary hike for non-union employees. All of that was recommended and estimated spending still came in more than $3 million under last year.

This might have been the year to throw a one-time, multi-year contract at someone to initiate and maintain a feral-cat trapping program. The cost probably would have been lower than legal fees, and definitely lower than restoring library hours.

And the organization to partner with is ready made. The National Key Deer Refuge is embarking on its own trapping program in the coming months, but it is limited to actions only on federal property.

An agreement to piggy-back on that operation, since the refuge will be doing all of the data collection activities anyway, would be a simple, cheap and probably effective way for the county to meet its obligations. It night even get by with no manpower costs, the most hefty dollar item in any program.

By giving the refuge permission to expand its reach to county-controlled lands, which is pretty much everything the federal government doesn’t own both public and private, and offering a one time stipend, the refuge might well be able to fashion a program that meets the spirit of the old agreement, even if implementation isn’t spelled out.

USFWS has thus far not pushed the cat trapping issue, but it can, during any annual report on the HCP, ask for such a program.

Whether that would constitute a legal amendment is something for the attorneys to work out, but our guess is that both sides would profit from, and therefore buy into, such a plan.

It’s fairly certain that the budget proposal with five-percent, across-the-board pay raises isn’t going to pass the Board of County Commissioners. We hope those who haven’t gotten increases, and are near the bottom of the rung in pay scale will get something. But what isn’t passed out that way could well be diverted into cat trapping, and nothing would change with this year’s tax rates or overall spending projections.

Because protection of endangered species is partly the county’s mission, and the overriding mission of the refuge, implementing feral cat trapping is the right thing to do and the time may never be more right to do the right thing in this instance.


5 Responses to “Maybe right year for cat control”


  1. Connie, Orlando Aug 28 2011 / 3pm

    Or the county could partner with Ocean Reef who have a highly successful Trap/Neuter/Return program. They have a vet on site and would handle any cats humanely.

    The biggest problem with pushing a feral cat trapping program is that no one – the county nor USFWS – have any idea how many cats are out there, where they are coming from or even if any or all of them pose a threat to wildlife. It’s all ASSUMPTION! No studies have been, no data has been collected. Instead, cats have been villainized. I guess innocent until proven guilty means absolutely nothing to you.

  2. Peter J. Wolf Aug 28 2011 / 7pm

    If you think managing the Keys’ feral cats via trapping and—let’s be honest here—killing is going to cost much less that the $500,000 for restoring library hours, you’re mistaken. It’s an easy mistake to make, of course, given how dishonest USFWS has been about the issue for years now.

    In 2003, USFWS allocated $50,000 (through a contract with USDA) for trapping cats in the Keys. The result? Thirteen cats and dozens of raccoons. What do you suppose taxpayers get for $500,000, then—130 cats and hundreds of raccoons?

    Contrary to what USFWS suggests, we’re not going to kill our way out of this problem—a point made abundantly clear when one considers what “successful” eradications program involve.

    On Marion Island (115 square miles in total area, barren, and uninhabited), located in the South Indian Ocean, it took 19 years to eradicate approximately 2,200 cats, using disease (feline distemper), poisoning, intensive hunting and trapping, and dogs.

    On Ascension Island (34 square miles, and a population <1,000), eradication efforts (~635 cats killed over 27 months) totaled GBP 650,000 (approximately $1.1M today).

    No wonder USFWS doesn’t like to talk about the realities of such endeavors—and didn’t reference such work in their Predator Management Plan released earlier this year.

    Funds would be better spent on Trap-Neuter-Return and low-cost spay-neuter programs, both of which offer the promise of greater long-term returns. TNR is not an ideal solution, but in many cases it’s the best option we’ve got.

    Peter J. Wolf

  3. Woodsman Aug 28 2011 / 9pm

    If you do your homework you’ll quickly find out that *ANY* TNR program and their advocates are making absolute fools out of each and every one of you that they con with their nonsense. Not only are they causing untold damage to ALL native wildlife (directly and indirectly) and further spread of deadly diseases to all animals and humans, but are also doing *ABSOLUTELY* *NOTHING* to curtail cats’ breeding rates.

    Not even *ONE* TNR program has EVER trapped more than 0.4% of existing cats in any one area for over a decade now. They simply cannot trap them faster than they breed out of control, no matter what they do. And those cats that learn to evade traps go on to produce offspring that now also know how to evade any trapping method used. So not only are 99.6% ALWAYS still breeding out of control, and spreading their diseases everywhere, and still destroying ALL wildlife (directly or indirectly), but TNR fools are also ensuring that any future generations of these devastating invasive-species won’t even be able to be trapped. This is why, due to TNR-Advocates’ insistence that they have “the answer”, that their feral-cat population has now climbed to an ecologically-deadly 150 MILLION feral-cats across the USA. Soon to turn into 1.5 BILLION cats within the year if you apply cats’ breeding rates to previous population numbers.

    Find whatever way that you can to destroy all feral and stray cats on-sight. Avoid using traps if at all possible because trapping is what slowed everything down to where cat populations have now sky-rocketed out of control.

    On advice of the local sheriff where I live I used a .22 equipped with a good illuminated-scope and a laser-sight for use when they are most active, dusk to dawn. I shot every last one of them on my property to restore all the native wildlife to proper balance. Mission accomplished! 100% total success! The cost was only 0.3 CENT, a ONE-TIME expense per cat this way (5000 rounds on sale for only $15). And contrary to another famous TNR-Advocate’s bald-faced “vacuum effect” LIE … NO CATS REPLACED THEM. The NATIVE predators and their required NATIVE prey that WAS here and BELONGS here is what replaced their lousy invasive-species cats that had destroyed the native food-chain.

    May you have as much success as I did, and so quickly and inexpensively too.

    p.s. Avoid the use of poisons if at all possible that, if released into the food-chain, would go on to harm the very wildlife that you are trying to save from destruction by cats. And please bury or incinerate the carcasses so all the highly toxic diseases that cats now carry won’t go on to harm or infect more wildlife or humans. Which, if you do a Google search, now even includes cats spreading The Plague in the USA. So much for that myth that cats would have saved people from The Plague in Europe, cats would have made it far worse, and just might do so this time around.

  4. Woodsman Sep 06 2011 / 12am

    Connie, Orlando

    No data on how many are out there? Really? Gee, that’s too bad, isn’t it.


    If even ONE cat is out in nature, that is ONE CAT TOO MANY.

    I guess nobody should be concerned if they find just one Zebra Mussel in their lake. Or one Emerald Ash-Borer in a tree. Or just one Brown Tree-Snake. Or just one Brazilian Pepper-Plant. Or just one Purple-Loosestrife plant. Or just one malignant tumor in your body. Or just one of any other INVASIVE LIFE-FORM THAT IS DETRIMENTAL TO THE EXISTENCE AND WELL-BEING OF ALL THE REST.

    There is no innocent about ANY cat, it’s guilty before it even made its mark or destroyed even ONE bird. IT’S AN INVASIVE SPECIES.

    Are all you cat-lovers this phenomenally ignorant and stupid? It sure seems to be the case. NONE of them have ever been any smarter than you are.

    By the way, if there’s no valid data, then how come the TNR groups’ OWN resources from state that Monroe County has:

    Estimated Cat Population of Monroe, Florida
    Estimated Number of Cats 118,270
    Estimated Number of Free-Roaming Cats 65,050

    Are you trying to tell us, tell everyone, that ALL TNR groups OWN data that they use to pitch costs to every city and county that they try to con into joining their methods are completely flawed and made-up? You can’t have it both ways you know. Either their data is correct OR they’ve been lying to everyone all these years and should be taken to court and charged with extortion, fraud, and perpetrating hoaxes on government officials and the general population. Which is it? (I’ll be so glad when those prison doors start slamming. It’s not a matter of if, but when.)

  5. Bernie Feb 17 2012 / 3am

    Okay Woodsman, so there was too many cats on your property and you shot them all and had to fight with local animal groups over it. That’s why your blasting the internet with irrelevant studies and distorted calculations.

    The reason cats are able to breed out of control on your land is because YOU killed all the coyotes, wolves, etc. Please don’t make cats out to be anything other than another creature in our ecosystem. The links you post citing studies about fleas, etc, are meaningless. All wild animals have fleas, ticks, etc.
    People cannot just go around shooting everything that inconveniences them. And “cat-lovers” are not all lunatics. Though some are. (I prefer dogs myself). But what happens when my neighbor decides there’s too many owls bothering his chickens? Too many fish breeding in his river? Etc.

    Most people who promote TNR are on the same side as you (trying to reduce cat populations). However, they realize that allowing people to just shoot them is a mistake because a large percent of people are simply ignorant jerks, who will abuse such rights.

    Many of these cats are domestic cats that ignorant jerks have released. Also, there’s a lot of photos and videos online of feral cats being domesticated and making their owners very happy. An example:

    Think ahead a bit… if TNR programs are allowed to continue and grow, eventually science will find a more effective way to mass sterilze cats (via biotech or perhaps some sort of dna-altering substances which can be fed to them and will not affect other species). This sort of breakthrough would drastically reduce the problem for you and “cat lovers” who just want to end their suffering. But the basic concept of TNR instead of shooting needs to continue for that pat

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