Audubon New York Rallies Support Against TNR Legislation

This week, Governor Cuomo vetoed legislation that would have been bad for birds—in part thanks to thousands of letters sent by on-the-ground activists.

Each year, feral and free-roaming domestic cats kill an estimated 2 billion birds (or more) in the United States, including threatened and endangered species like the Piping Plover. Next to habitat loss, cats are the leading cause of bird mortality according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and North American Bird Conservation Initiative’s 2014 State of the Birds report. As populations of feral cats increase in the state, so do the threats to birds, other wildlife, and public health.

In January 2015, legislation was introduced in both houses of the New York State Legislature that would provide funding for the Trap, Neuter, and Return (TNR) of feral cats, as a means of controlling the population. According to scientific studies, however, TNR has been shown to be ineffective at reducing feral cat populations, feeding cats does not eliminate their instinctive hunting behavior, and even when cats do not directly kill wildlife, their mere presence has been shown to reduce nesting success of birds. In addition, the proposed legislation was in conflict with sections of New York’s Agriculture and Markets Law that prohibit the release of animals once in the custody of a shelter or animal control officer.

Without amendments to prohibit TNR from bird conservation areas and other critical habitats that serve species of greatest conservation need, Audubon New York was strongly opposed to this bill. If it became law, it would further increase threats to many of our priority species. In order to fight its passage and make sure Governor Andrew Cuomo and his staff heard our concerns, we worked with a coalition of groups and we activated the Audubon network to urge Governor Cuomo to veto the legislation. Our supporters rose to the occasion: Over the course of four months and in response to three action alerts, more than 3,500 letters and emails were sent to the governor’s office along with countless phone calls supporting our position. The Audubon call to action was shared far and wide, and thanks to our tireless efforts, on October 26, Governor Cuomo vetoed this flawed bill.

As a testament to this success, according to the published veto message, the governor cites the essential points that we drove home through our messaging, including the direct clash with the Agriculture and Markets law and, most importantly to our mission, the clear impacts that feral cats have on endangered and threatened wildlife. From Governor Cuomo’s veto message: “the return of feral cats to the wild must be balanced against the impacts these cats can have on wildlife, including on threatened and endangered species, habitats, and food sources for native predators. I am therefore constrained to veto this bill.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves!

Special thanks to our partners:

American Bird Conservancy

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

New York State Humane Association

People for Ethical Treatment of Animals

NYS Fish and Wildlife Management Board

New York State Conservation Council, Inc.

New York State Chapter, National Wild Turkey Federation

NY Sportsmen’s Advisory Council

The Wildlife Society New York Chapter

Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon Society

New York State Wildlife Rehabilitation Council