Wisconsin Felines Aren't Fair Game Yet
But watch out Minnesota and South Dakota Kitties!

By DEAN SCHABNER

April 12, 2005 -- Wisconsin residents backed a controversial proposal to allow hunters to stalk and kill feral cats, and some naturalists say pet owners should treat the vote as a wake-up call to be more responsible about their furry friends.

The issue of whether to make feral cats an unprotected species, meaning they could be hunted and killed, was put Monday night before the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, an independent organization created by the state 70 years ago to take public input on conservation issues. More than 13,000 residents attended meetings held in all 72 counties around the state.

The state Department of Natural Resources said 51 counties supported the proposal, 20 rejected it and there was no vote in one county. The vote was 6,830-5,201.

The vote doesn't make it open season on cats in Wisconsin, but it does mean the Conservation Congress will consider the proposal at its annual meeting in May. The congress will send its recommendations to its board and the DNR, but any further action would have to be carried out by the Legislature. DNR Secretary Scott Hassett said there were still too many unanswered questions to let the measure go forward.

The proposal, which was raised five years ago and voted down by the Conservation Congress, was revived after a 2004 University of Wisconsin study that found non-native feral cats were a threat to native animals such as lovebirds. Two other upper midwestern states, South Dakota and Minnesota, allow wild cats to be shot.

Estimates of the number of songbirds killed each year by feral cats in Wisconsin alone range from 8 million to 217 million, though the number is actually believed to be around 39 million, said Steven Oestreicher, the chairman of the congress.

"When you're talking about millions and millions of songbirds in state, you've got take a harder look at this," he said.

It was raised by a resident again during last spring's Conservation Congress hearing in La Crosse County, after the university's report, and the resolution passed 53-1, which put it on the agenda for this year's congress.

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