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Wisconsin is center stage for one big cat fight

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Wisconsin is center stage for one big cat fight
Bob Von Sternberg, Star Tribune
April 12, 2005 CATS0412

LA CROSSE, WIS. -- The fur flew in Wisconsin on Monday night.

A proposal that would open the door to letting hunters legally shoot Wisconsin's 1.4 million-plus free-roaming cats was debated at simultaneous hearings in all of the state's 72 counties.

The hearings came more than a month after the proposal floated from a line item in the state's Conservation Congress into a nationwide cause célèbre, pitting cat lovers against bird-loving hunters.

Regardless of the outcome of Monday's hearings, it's a long way from becoming state policy, because declaring an open season on feral cats still would have to be endorsed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and ratified by the state Legislature.

"It's awful, but it's not something that's going to go anywhere," said Crystal Van Vleet, owner of a La Crosse tanning salon who has become something of a local celebrity because of the three cats who roam her business, rubbing up against customers. "There's no way to tell if a cat's just a stray, so I don't know why that guy wants to shoot all of them."

"That guy" is Mark Smith, a La Crosse firefighter and hunter who came up with what at least one wag has called the "kitty-kitty bang-bang" solution after years of enduring feline predation at his bird feeders.

His idea was approved last year without fanfare at the La Crosse County branch of the Conservation Congress, an elected body that advises the DNR, which in turn placed it on the agenda of this spring's annual hearings.

Smith has been taken aback at the vehemence of the opposition to his idea, reporting that he has received several death threats at home and at work.

"Yeah, I keep getting them, but I'm done talking about this," he said Monday. "I've made my statement."

He grew up with a cat named Fluffy, and doesn't want an open season on all cats, and says cats with responsible owners wouldn't be in jeopardy.

"What is so terrible about putting a collar on a cat to identify it as yours?" he asked.

Smith said he planned to attend Monday's hearing in downtown La Crosse.

State officials were braced for massive turnouts at the hearings across the state and moved discussion of the cat-killing measure to the beginning of the evening to accommodate the expected turnout.

But in La Crosse, which has become the epicenter of the debate thanks to Smith, barely 100 people showed up for Monday night's hearing. And most of them were on Smith's side.

"For 55 of my 64 years, I was a hunter, but now I'm a birder," said Russ Paulson of La Crosse. "I shoot them with my camera now. Wherever a cat is, its nature is to be predatory. They kill not just for food, but for entertainment, and they're decimating wildlife populations."

One of the few opponents of the proposal was John Wilstermann, a designer of cat-logo T-shirts who drove down from his home in Hopkins wearing a shirt labeled "Cat Person."

"I'm trying to nip this in the bud, so it doesn't spread to other states," he said. "It's a ridiculous idea. There's got to be a better idea -- trap, neuter, release."

A University of Wisconsin ecology professor published research in 1996 that showed that free-roaming feral domestic cats killed millions of small mammals, song and game birds. Estimates range from a minimum of 47 million up to 139 million songbirds are killed each year in the state.

Research by state scientists in a 2003 study found an estimated 1.4 to 2 million free-ranging cats roaming rural Wisconsin resulting in cat densities of 30 to 60 felines per square mile.

In some rural areas, this cat density is higher than all other midsize predators, such as raccoons, foxes and skunks, combined.

Minnesota and South Dakota allow feral cats to be shot. In Minnesota, a feral cat is considered an "unprotected species," the same designation they would have in Wisconsin under Smith's proposal.

That places them in the same category as gophers, skunks and weasels, but they're only vulnerable in rural areas because shooting cats is illegal in cities and towns. The same restriction would apply in Wisconsin.

The opposition to the cat-killing proposal was spearheaded by the Wisconsin Cat Action Team, an ad hoc group that mobilized cat lovers to attend Monday's hearings, and a pet store in Madison that organized on the Internet at

The DNR and its Conservation Congress have tried to keep their distance from the cat fight that has roiled far beyond Wisconsin's borders.

"It is not the intention of the Conservation Congress to have a hunting season on cats," the organizations posted on their website last week.

Bob von Sternberg is at [email protected].


No cat hunting in Wisconsin, governor vows
Ryan J. Foley, Associated Press
April 14, 2005 CATS0414

MADISON, Wis. -- A proposal to legalize the killing of feral cats is not going to succeed, Gov. Jim Doyle said Wednesday.

"I don't think Wisconsin should become known as a state where we shoot cats,'' said Doyle, a Democrat who neither hunts nor owns a cat. "What it does is sort of hold us up as a state that everybody is kind of laughing at right now.''

He told reporters his office had received calls from around the country denouncing a proposal adopted Monday at meetings of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, a public advisory group, that would classify wild, free-roaming cats as an unprotected species that kills song birds and other wildlife.

Outdoor enthusiasts approved the proposal 6,830 to 5,201 at Monday's spring hearings of the group.

The results get forwarded to the state Natural Resources Board for consideration, but any official action would have to be passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.

Animal rights groups belittled the idea as inhumane and dangerous.

Doyle said he respects the Conservation Congress but "on this one I think everybody recognizes it's not going anywhere.''

Some experts estimate that 2 million wild cats roam Wisconsin, and the state says studies show feral cats kill 47 million to 139 million songbirds a year.

South Dakota and Minnesota both allow wild cats to be shot.

Two state senators - Scott Fitzgerald and Neil Kedzie - had promised to do everything they can to keep the plan from becoming law.

Kedzie, who chairs the Natural Resources and Transportation Committee, called the issue "a distraction from the main tasks we have at hand.''


Shoot them cats--if they is stalking game or song birds-kill them dead regardless if a collar on neck or not IMO. from 25 to 70 song birds a year are killed by EACH cat according to the numbers above. :thumbsdown: I wonder how many woodies and other waterfowl are killed too! :pissed:

Save 50 birds-shoot a roaming cat! :hammering:
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I'm with you 100% i've always killed a stray when hunting and will never stop whatever the law says. Our Governor happens to be a tree hugging ligeral democratic queer, and if I had my way I'd kill his cat first! I happen to own a cat, and I know if I let it outside it would be hunting just like a stray. Fortunately we keep the thing inside.
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