Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Crazy Cat Lobby

I have known environmental gadfly Ted Williams for well over 30 years, since  Gray's Sporting Journal was based in Brookline Mass. Ted was and is tough, sardonic, and not one to mince words-- he was has never been inclined to cut anybody any slack, even friends. I am by no means in agreement with him on every issue; for instance, like most eastern journalists  he has never quite comprehended the virtues  of public land ranching, only the vices. But so what? Not only is he quite capable of reducing friends as well as  enemies to sputtering incoherence; I think he enjoys it, and I suspect arguing with him will either hone or demolish your own arguments.  Some have called this lifelong hunter of woodcock and ducks (and, last we talked about such things, New England Republican) an anti- hunter because he follows no party line; one friend refers to him as a Bolshevik. By party line standards I am just as bad, albeit on different issues. If you feel he is wrong, you damn well better have your facts researched; Ted was and is fearless, well- researched, blunt, funny, and honest. He is staunchly "green" but never politically correct.

More than ten years ago, Audubon magazine fired the man who may have been the best nature editor of our generation, the audacious and utterly unconventional Les Line (I have blogged on him-- hit archives & search) . They wanted trendy urban stories, not nature writing. At the time I said there was no longer any reason to read the magazine. But I was wrong; Ted still wrote for them, and though I never re- subscribed, I often bought the magazine on the stands and read his column. Even when he was irritating, I knew I could trust him.

Recently,  he wrote a piece for a Florida newspaper advocating culling the immensely destructive feral cat population to preserve songbirds (the numbers of lost birds every year suggested by more than one study runs into the billions, and can be found on Google). A couple of cyber groups immediately put up Internet petitions to have the monster fired .

At which point Audubon, unbelievably, caved in to the Internet flash mob of ecological illiterates (including a mob of sentimental cat loonies who call themselves Alley Cat Allies-- I will NOT link), and fired him, cravenly reducing his 33 years of writing  for them, mostly on the masthead, to "freelance writer and occasional contributor", and ignoring every conservation study in the past decade.

 Audubon- the- mag has now achieved the remarkable feat of firing both the best nature editor of our time and our most independent conservation columnist. If you are so inclined, go to their website and tell them just how inconsequential and worthless they have become.

Update: some hard numbers from Patrick Burns, sent to Audubon:

"Please count me as one of those extremely disappointed in the National Audubon Society’s treatment of Ted Williams in response to a bunch of squalling feral cat advocates who have positively declared war on America’s birds.

Here are the facts when it comes to feral cats:

·         Feral cats kill over 2,500 birds a MINUTE in the U.S. -- over 1.5 billion a year.

·         Feral cats are not pets. They cannot be rehomed.

·         Feral cat colonies are not "No Kill" -- they are the planned, subsidized, and systematic mass killing of native wildlife.

Let's change this losing game. It's time to trap and euthanize... and Audubon should stand behind it.

The only reason to read Audubon magazine is Ted William’s column..."

Update 2:
David Petersen writes:
 " As I read the piece, he was calling for mercy to the murderous hordes of cat-killing feral cats by replacing the dominant neutering program with a far more humane  euthanasia program. While Mr. Williams clearly did not overtly suggest that you and I start poisoning cats, as the cat crazies claim, he has nonetheless subsequently apologized for any lack of clarity in what he did say, as you can see for yourself via

"Audubon is North America’s leading voice on behalf of birds. Cats, feral and otherwise, are a, or the, leading cause of the shameless mass slaughter of birds. How many feral cat crazies are Audubon supporters?"

(And, like me-- and how many others?-- he remembers Les Line; he " ...was never able to find it in myself to forgive Audubon for dumping Les Line, who, in many readers’ minds, was Audubon Magazine.")


Federico said...

Why should I tell them they are inconsequential and worthless, when they are? I have better things to do than (fail to) educate such irredeemable idiots. Now, if you excuse me, I'm off to kill feral cats, and throw them in the pot (cats are edible, dontcha know?).

Anonymous said...


Pathetic that the cat lobby is just wrong and won't see it. Pathetic that, even if they weren't, trying to get somebody fired because you disagree with them is a chickenshit move. Pathetic that Audubon would cave in such a craven manner, rendering themselves worthless.

Who trapped and neutered these pitiful people?

Jim Cornelius

Anonymous said...

I haven't followed the debate specific to feral cats much, but have read a bit on outdoor cats and wildlife. I don't doubt that the issues surrounding feral and outdoor cats will be unique to every time and place, so there won't be one answer to every situation.

My impression is that while feral cat advocates can be quite vociferous, the anti-feral/outdoor cat lobby can similarly be overzealous. Their extrapolations of numbers of birds killed can be based on sparse data, and they are too often short on context. A frustration that I have had with the bird body counts is that the researchers may give estimates for absolute numbers of birds killed, but they largely ignore the more important question of how this rate of predation affects the overall population. Another question that needs to be addressed is what, if anything, has changed with the balance of cats vs. birds in North America to suddenly produce a crisis. North American birds have been coexisting with cats for hundreds of years.

This article gives a broader overview on influences on global bird populations:

This debate strikes me as part of the philosophy that wants to separate man from nature. My cat goes outdoors and he joins--other wildlife, humans, hawks, dogs, motor vehicles, windows, habitat alteration, disease... -- in killing wildlife. He mostly kills rodents, and I am happy for this service he provides. He also bridges the human world with the natural world, as he is fully part of both. The same with my dogs, all forms of hunting, fishing, hiking, etc. I really don't want to live isolated from nature-- as though that was possible.

Ted Willams being fired for writing his piece is another topic altogether. Let the discussion and debate go on.


Susan Beckhorn said...

Thanks, Steve. As always, you know how to say truth beautifully.

Anonymous said...

The data is neither sparse nor inconclusive about population-level effects of feral and free-ranging cats on native birds in the wildland/urban interface. Outdoor cats are a deadly exacerbation of human impact on nature -- there is no "balance of cats vs birds". The expanding feral cat population is simply an ever-more-deadly cause of native bird mortality, especially for declining neotropical migrants which continue to suffer habitat alteration from human development. While some people attract birds to their yards with landscaping and food, outdoor cats transform those suburban environments into an avian "mortality sink". Native ground nesting and cup nesting birds are especially vulnerable to cats, while native cavity nesters are relentlessly displaced by non-native house sparrows and starlings. The trends are clear and undeniable. We should take steps to reduce mortality on our declining native bird populations from ALL types of human impacts, and feral cat control would be a good place to start. If you noticed that your own windows or automobiles were unnecessarily killing hundreds of birds a year, I suspect you would do something about it. ME

Anonymous said...

Although I agree that Audubon is idiotic in dumping this guy(what helps SELL magazines better than controversial issues? And what better to stir the pot than the Kat Krazies? Are the editors just STUPID??!!)--I do(somewhat) disagree(in certain particulars) that feral cats are THAT big a threat to songbird survival. And I'm not disagreeing with the "statistics"--though I ALWAYS view any statistics with suspicion! I live in the U. S. after all! And cats used to kill way more birds than they do now--in areas that I have personal experience with. I used to find(or my dogs did!) feral cats, or their sign, commonly in even the remotest of places, far, far from human habitations. Now I rarely do. Why? I'm purty sure it's because of the now nationwide expansion of coyotes(which did not used to live in my area)--even to urban environments. Wherever there are good populations of coyotes, feral(and pet!) cats are kept well under control(though, of course, there will always be SOME...) And despite the accuracy of the "numbers", they aren't taking everything into account--cats are just a convienant scapegoat. Cat predation hardly takes any more birds(in my opinion) than hawks, owls, snakes, weasels, foxes, raccoons, 'possums and a zillion other bird/egg munchers out there, many of which have been severly reduced in numbers thanks to human pressures(others have adapted and increased!)--cats have merely stepped in to predate in their places. And the death rate of songbird populations is ENORMOUS no matter what the causes, but this tends to get ignored in these emotional issues. Cats are villified because they are not NATIVE predators--and although they HAVE done irreparable damage to native wildlife on small island environments, and certainly in Australia, I think here in North America, people are wasting their time and emotions wringing their hands on something Nature has already taken care of.....L.B.

Anonymous said...

Well it's been a long week for Audubon and me, but I think we've done the right thing. Go to:

Ted Williams

Steve Bodio said...

Considering the more informed comments, and the quality and knowledge of those who defended you against the rants of the"Ted Haters"* you are being generous and Audubon, with what seems a grudging not- quite- apology, is lucky. Still, good to see you back.

Why DON'T they have a stated position contra feral cats, anyway? {;-)

*I am thinking of those going over to your article on second level poisoning of raptors and abusing you there, not to mention their confusing two entirely separate issues.