Mare Island predator cats must go
They shoot cats, don't they?
For sake of mice, birds, M.I. predators must go
Vallejo Times-Herald, California - Sep 20, 2006
By MATTHIAS GAFNI/Times-Herald staff writer
In a little-known and increasingly controversial program, Vallejo is paying a federal employee to trap and kill predators - including cats, until recently - that prey on an endangered bird and mouse found on Mare Island.
Although cats have received a reprieve from the death sentence, they still are trapped, along with raccoons, skunks and opossums, which are still destroyed, usually by a .22 caliber handgun.
Mare Island's predator management program isn't pretty, a city official says, but it provides a necessary environmental balancing act, preserving the salt marsh harvest mouse and the California clapper rail. When Mare Island Naval Shipyard closed, the federal government mandated such a program.
Critics, led by Vallejo City Councilmember Stephanie Gomes, who has twice delayed votes on funding the program to work on amendments, argue that the island has changed since the program's inception in 1999. She also questions the need to use a firearm in destroying animals and wonders what Mare Island residents would think of such a practice if they knew about it.
"It's not the Wild, Wild West out here anymore," said Gomes, as she stood near a feral cat colony on the north end of Mare Island. "Mare Island is being revitalized, and with that we have to update our policies."
Gomes, who is fostering two abandoned kittens, has worked with the city to alter the program, suggesting numerous changes.
All sides agree that some sort of program is needed to protect the endangered species.
In 1997, as the naval base was closing, federal wildlife officials ordered a program to protect the island's two endangered species, identifying their potential predators - raccoons, red fox, possums, skunks and cats. The program called for the animals to be trapped and humanely destroyed.
In August 2004, the city contracted the work out to a wing of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The proposed cost for the service is almost $39,000 annually. The trapper spends about 20 hours a week setting up traps on the island.
"The trapping occurs on the outskirts of Mare Island not where the housing units are," said John Cerini, Vallejo's assistant maintenance superintendent.
Cerini, who has been working with Gomes to come up with an updated program, said nobody enjoys putting down animals. "It's a very difficult program to administer. But it's protecting endangered species, and we're required to do it," he said.
From March through August, the federal employee has trapped and destroyed three cats, 58 possums, 18 skunks and 32 raccoons, Cerini said. Because those animals are wild and it's difficult to administer a syringe to put them down, Cerini said the trapper has used his other option - a small-caliber handgun.
"This is being done by a federal agency with pretty strict guidelines," he said.
The city has given the trapper a green light to humanely shoot the animals if necessary, he said.
Gomes said she's under the impression, after reading the agreement, that the trapper needs city approval each time he uses a firearm.
"This is a human-created problem and we need to see a humane solution," said Gomes, particularly focusing on the treatment of the island's huge feral cat population. Plus, with people now living on Mare Island, there's a chance their pets will get caught in a trap.
Gomes' protests have led to the first unofficial change to the program. Since June, Cerini said he's told the trapper to take all trapped cats to the Benicia-Vallejo Humane Society.
"We stopped the euthanasia of any cats," Cerini said.
Upon the program's next review, set for next Tuesday's city council meeting, that language will be added to the agreement.
Still, only one cat in September wound up at the animal shelter, which concerns Gomes.
"He's capturing animals out here and those animals are being disposed of. How they're disposed of, I don't know, but that's the type of information we should have a right to know," said Gomes, stressing more oversight is needed.
She's requesting an annual status report, in addition to wording guaranteeing the proper treatment of all animals handled by the trapper.
"For myself as an animal lover, I want to make sure any animals trapped are treated humanely and respectfully," Gomes said.
She also wants the feral cat issue addressed. Midday Tuesday, in a typical industrial section of the island, cats could be seen wandering in and out of crevices and holes in empty buildings.
Nancy Akiyama, a Solano County Friends of Animals volunteer who routinely traps feral cats on the island, says she and others have noticed feral cats go missing. "I'm finding out that some of these cats are being re-trapped and killed (by the federal trapper)," she said. The city says the trapper hasn't killed any cats since June.
Akiyama participates in the Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) programs, which attempt to corral feral cat populations, which can explode exponentially if members aren't fixed.
Peter Lepley, director of the local humane society, says his shelter is willing to take in any feral cat. "We want to resolve this so cats can come to us and not be deemed wildlife. We want to resolve this for the best outcome for the animals," Lepley said.
Feral cats surrendered to the humane society are placed in a kennel for a couple days before being evaluated, he said. Those able to be adopted out are - some are even fostered out to make them comfortable with humans - and others not fit for adoption are sent to the Solano Animal Shelter, where they usually are euthanized.
"We send the least number of animals up there. We want to avoid it, but we're a small shelter and we only have so much room," Lepley said.
In August alone, the Vallejo shelter had 174 feral cats dropped off.
To help prevent new homeowners' pet cats from being trapped, Gomes wants homeowners to be alerted about the program by letter. She added that developer Lennar Mare Island LLC should disclose the trapping program to new residents.
Lennar spokesperson Jason Keadjian said the developer has recently met with homeowner representatives and "Lennar is committed to making sure existing and new homeowners are fully aware of the program."
Both Gomes and the city believe a modified agreement could be reached.
"We definitely will be regularly reviewing it and adjusting it to maintain the best program possible," Cerini said.
-- E-mail Matthias Gafni at email@example.com or call 553-6825.
How to help ...
To help curb Vallejo's feral cat problem, officials recommend more spaying and neutering.
The Benicia-Vallejo Humane Society's 500 Club accepts donations that go toward fixing dogs and cats. The public can purchase $10 cat and $20 dog vouchers that help pay to spay or neuter animals.
In 2006, the program so far has helped get 145 dogs and cats, up from only 44 in 2005.
To donate or to learn how to microchip your pets, call the Humane Society at 645-7905 (hit ext. 101 after hours).
To learn more about Mare Island's feral cats, visit www.solanoferals.org/mareisland.