It appears that the National Audubon Society has suspended longtime contributor and vocal conservationist Ted Williams for some comments he recently issued regarding the efficacy of Trap-Neuter-Release programs for feral cats.
The National Audubon Society is about nothing if not the courage to take a stand for conservation. In recent years, the organization has leaned heavily on the pointed articles from Mr. Williams appearing in Audubon magazine to do just that. He has written about everything from Arctic oil drilling to ORVs on the Carolina Coast, and never shied away from a controversial topic. I haven’t always agreed with him, but I have always been impressed with his commitment to speaking out on behalf of the species under threat.
In this case, birders and conservationists have lamented for decades that there just aren’t as many birds around now as there used to be. It’s not extinctions, it’s a general reduction in abundance for species after species. There is no smoking gun for the majority of these cases: habitat loss, pesticides, window mortality, cat predation – all contribute to the declines. We shouldn’t concern ourselves with which is worst before we act, we should work to reduce the effects of all of these pressures wherever and whenever we can. It’s not just nice to do that: keeping common birds from declining to the point at which their recovery is really compromised makes good economic sense too.
Unfortunately, the data suggest that trap-neuter-release programs are bad news for the local wildlife in proximity to feral cat colonies. Wildlife managers need the authority to employ lethal methods of cat control in problem areas. We do for other problem wildlife that actually are native species: opossums, raccoons, skunks, armadillos, voles, gophers, moles, etc. Some cat advocates consider domesticated cats to be native wildlife – which is demonstrably false – but some of our native species are treated more harshly by animal damage control practitioners and private citizens protecting the integrity of their lawns than are cats.
Minna Hall and Harriet Hemenway would not have cut their ties to Ted Williams over his comments. They would have joined him in the fight. Come on, Audubon: reinstate Williams and publicly take a stand to say why it’s the right thing to do.