Invasive Animals

Feral Cats Threaten Our Wetlands’ Wildlife

Until 2004, there was a severe problem with feral and free-roaming cats in the Petaluma Wetlands and in city parks, primarily as the result of feeding stations. At least one station was within forty feet of the wetlands. A concerned group of citizens worked with Petaluma Animal Services to craft an ordinance to forbid feeding of feral cats in or close to the wetlands and in city parks. Additionally, it required registration of feeding stations in non-sensitive areas. The ordinance was passed by the City Council. The section below is the one that the Petaluma Wetlands Alliance feels is particularly important.

Petaluma City Ordinance 9.14110C: There shall be no feeding of feral cats in or within one-half mile of the Petaluma Wetlands, located along the Petaluma River. The area covered by this section is bordered by the Petaluma River on the south, and Lakeville Highway to the north and east, from the Petaluma Marina to, and including the Petaluma Holding Ponds.

After 9.14110 passed in 2004, feeding stations were removed from in-and-around the wetlands and city parks.  The stations in Lucchesi Park, of such concern to then Parks Director Jim Carr, were phased out and the cats removed. Once feeding stopped, other cats did not appear as the food source had disappeared.

Species That Need Protecting

Petaluma has funded studies of species by biologists in the wetlands covered under 9.14110C.  The following species of special concern have been identified:  Common (salt marsh) Yellowthroat, Black Rail, Red-legged Frog, Clapper Rail, Loggerhead Shrike, California Horned Lark, Burrowing Owls (8-ounce, ground-dwelling birds) and Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse. Additionally, there are over 30 more bird species in the wetlands in peril from cats – sparrows, warblers, larks, swallows, wrens, and thrushes.

Alarming Facts About Feral and Free-Roaming Cats

Worldwide, cats have been involved in the extinction of more bird species than any other cause, except habitat destruction. – University of Wisconsin.

Audubon: “Scientists estimate that free-roaming cats (owned, stray, or feral) kill hundreds of millions of birds and possibly more than a billion small mammals in the U.S. each year.”

Housecats are not native to the environment. They have been introduced in vast numbers and at high densities. Our local wildlife has evolved adaptations to deal with other predators…but not housecats.  –Cat Indoors

TTVAR-M (Trap, Test, Vaccinate, Alter, Release and Maintain) is not effective according to the Audubon Society.  TTVAR-M merely releases a predator to continue killing birds and small mammals for the rest of its days. Feeding (“maintaining”) feral cats does not cancel their hunting instincts. They are predators designed to kill birds and small mammals – more natural food for them than canned cat food. Cat owners who have large backyards and/or allow their cats to free-roam can attest that well-fed cats still bring birds and small mammals home. Experts say that cats at artificially high densities, sustained by supplemental feeding, reduce the abundance of native birds.

We understand that feral cats are not to blame for their predicament. Cats are more often abandoned than dogs and live miserable, abbreviated lives in the wild. Most responsible cat owners keep their pets safe inside where their life spans triple those of abandoned pets. Rather than leave cat(s) to fend for themselves, anyone planning to move and contemplating leaving their cat(s) should contact Petaluma Animal Services (707-778-4396). Socialized cats are quite adoptable.

Other Invasive Animal Species

1. MUTE SWANS are a European species that was brought to America as eggs or chicks by wealthy people to adorn their ranch ponds. However, these birds had a mind of their own. After they grew up and deserted the ranch for a wild lifestyle, these swans merged with other Mute Swans to form wild populations. There are now about 200 swans living in the Petaluma River watershed. There are two major issues with the Mute Swan:

A. They are exceptionally aggressive during their breeding and nesting season, between April and August, and refuse to share the wetlands with any other large species of wildlife, including geese and certain ducks. The swans drive off the native birds or kill them, if they do not leave fast enough. This causes much anguish among park visitors when they see several families of nesting geese slaughtered by Mute Swans in a matter of minutes.

B. Mute Swans consume huge quantities of marsh plants compared to the other animals at Shollenberger which creates food shortages for the other large birds, forcing them to leave the Petaluma wetlands and look for another place to live.

Biologists have asked the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) for assistance in managing this species. CDFG admits it is a problem, but has yet to issue a management plan except to say the Mute Swans can be hunted everyday of the year wherever hunting is legal.

2. RED FOX is also a European species brought to the eastern United States to be hunted in the old English style. The Red Fox has expanded its range from coast-to-coast and is pushing out the smaller, native Gray Fox which is now a species of concern. Red Fox loves to eat eggs and the chicks laid by native ground-nesting species. They also have a taste for native jackrabbits, small pets, gophers, and other rodents. There is a resident population of Red Fox in the Ellis Creek/Shollenberger area, but it is very elusive and seldom seen by the public.

3. RED-EARED SLIDER TURTLE is a native of southeastern United States and was introduced to America 50-60 years ago by an irresponsible pet trade. Remember the dime-store turtles of our youth? They either died young, or people tired of them and “dumped them into the local creek.” These turtles, now living in wild populations, are competing with our only native turtle, the Western Pond Turtle, for space and resources. No one knows how this competition will end, but the CDFG now considers the Western Pond Turtle a “species of concern” because of their rapidly declining numbers in much of California.

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