Oakland, CA

East Bay Regional Parks embroiled in cat-killing controversy

Built in the Bay

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(OAKLAND, Calif.) Last year, the East Bay Regional Parks District drew public ire for killing stray cats that preyed on endangered birds and mice throughout one of its shoreline habitats. This year, while not removing the fatal option, district officials are hoping to circumvent that mistake.

According to a new policy approved by the district's board of directors Tuesday, officials are looking for other ways to solve the cat problem at the parks after getting a litany of public criticism following the revelation that staff shot and killed 13 cats living at Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline.

Seven commenters, one of whom had been regularly feeding a cat colony at the Shoreline park, pleaded with the board to remove the "lethal" option from the policy.

The board kept the lethal language for what they noted were extreme cases. One such example, according to a staff report, is when "trapping is not successful." Another example is when cats are "accessing a nesting colony of breeding California least terns or western snowy plovers."

Before any fatal action though, the district must consult animal services to pursue any possible non-lethal trapping methods.

Many of the birds and mice that call the shoreline parks in Oakland and Hayward home are endangered and thus require further protection than a standard field mouse. As sea level rises with climate change, their environment will continue to shrink.

"This was an organizational issue and not assigned to any individual (employee)," said Director Colin Coffey. "It goes beyond our policies ... There's nuances to what happens if we don't follow the Endangered Species Act."

Part of the non-lethal approach approved Tuesday is setting up cameras and fixing the fencelines around the area. According to staff, the district removed 45 cats from East Bay parks this year.

These new strategies did not assuage cat lovers who insisted that the lethal option be removed from the language of the policy. They distributed a survey last month that indicated more than three-quarters of people surveyed did not support shooting the stray cats.

"There are many other ways to mitigate whatever threat, or perception of threat, cats have in the environment," said Becky Robinson, founder of Alley Cat Allies which created the survey, at the meeting.

District officials noted both the concerns of cat lovers and those of conservationists, elaborating that this policy is meant to be dynamic and will likely change as the district collects more information.

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