Monthly Archives: March 2014

Friends of Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge announces Volunteer Opportunities!

Friends of Squaw Creek is seeking volunteers
for its nature shop at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.

You may ask, “What will I do?”
Greet our visitors and share your excitement for the refuge.
Answer questions about our refuge to those who call
Ring up sales for our nature shop.

You may ask, “How much of my time is needed?”
One Saturday or Sunday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM
now through May 11, 2014 during peak migration

When Burroughs Audubon adopted Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge, it knew it was taking part in the protection of 7,350 acres of wetland, forest, and grassland for hundreds of species of migrant birds. Your volunteer hours for Friends of Squaw Creek aids in the management of this wonderful habitat that is an Important Bird Area (IBA.) We are grateful.

You may email us at:
[email protected]

KDWPT Hits Record Enrollment for Spring Turkey Hunting Access

Nearly 214,000 Walk-In Hunting Access acres are available this spring

Hunting for spring turkeys can have its own set of challenges, but this year, finding a place to hunt shouldn’t be one of them. Thanks to the Walk-In Hunting Access (WIHA) program offered through the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT), hunters in search of this hardy bird will have access to nearly 214,000 privately-owned acres, in addition to the state- and federally-owned wildlife areas. And accessing maps to these locations has never been easier before. Hunters can locate 2014 Spring WIHA lands by:
-Grabbing a printed copy of the2014 Spring Turkey Hunting Atlas available wherever licenses are sold
-Downloading an online copy of the2014 Spring Turkey Hunting Atlas from
-Uploading the locations directly to a Garmin GPS Unit
-Uploading the locations to the Google Earth digital globe, or handheld device through Google Earth Mobile
Prior to accessing any Kansas WIHA properties, hunters are reminded to review the WIHA Area Rules & Information section of the2014 Spring Turkey Hunting Atlas.
Although there are no additional fees or sign-up required to access Kansas WIHA properties, hunters are still encouraged to be courteous if someone else is already using the property. All enrolled tracts are marked with WIHA signs to designate boundaries. If a tract shows on the map but doesn’t have signs, don’t access it. WIHA land is enrolled voluntarily by Kansas landowners, who may remove their property from the program at any time, for any reason. If a tract is removed, the signs will be taken down. It is up to hunters to be responsible, respectful, ethical, and safe to ensure the future availability of these properties.
For more information on the WIHA program, visit
The 2014 spring turkey season will begin with the archery and youth/disabled season April 1-8, followed by the regular firearm season April 9-May 31.
2014 Spring turkey permits­ for Units 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 are available online or at any license vendor through May 30.
Hunters who drew a Unit 4 (southwest Kansas) spring turkey permit earlier this year may also use their Unit 4 permit in adjacent Units 1, 2 and 5.

Celebrate National Wildlife Week! March 17-23, 2014

March 17-23, 2014

One thing that all wildlife needs, whatever they are and wherever they live, is WATER. In 2014, the theme of National Wildlife Week is: Wildlife and Water
From the mountains to the rivers to the oceans
Water is a life source for all living creatures (whether human, animal or plant) and we all depend on having clean waterways. Over the course of the week, National Wildlife Federation and its partners will highlight this connection by exploring our waterways and the wildlife that depend on them.
NWF will shed light on the connection between wildlife and water by examining over 50 different featured wildlife species across the country, from the endangered Hawaiian monk seal to swamp rabbits, whooping cranes and loons, spring peepers to hellbender salamanders, rainbow trout to walleye and blue crab to dragonflies.
There are many ways you can participate. Celebrate and experience nature with your kids,take learning outside, enjoy fun activities and games, and learn how you can take action for wildlife and water.
National Wildlife Week is National Wildlife Federation’s longest-running education program designed around teaching and connecting kids to the awesome wonders of wildlife. Each year, we pick a theme and provide fun and informative educational materials, curriculum and activities for educators and caregivers to use with kids.
For questions about National Wildlife Week, email [email protected]

Artificial Walleye Spawning a Labor of Love

A female walleye can release as many as 300,000 eggs, but less than 10 percent will survive in nature

In late March, a placid lake surface might lead some to believe major fish activity has yet to begin, but for walleye, waves of commotion are occurring beneath the surface as males and females begin spawning. As soon as water temperatures hit 45-50 degrees, walleye begin the annual process, as other fish species do each spring.
Most spawning activity occurs at night when female walleye search for the perfect rocky shoreline to lay their eggs, and male walleyes, which’ve been waiting on the spawning ground for days, fertilize them. With large females producing as many as 300,000 eggs, it’s hard to believe this species would need assistance with the process, but even the best laid plans are no match for Mother Nature. In Kansas lakes, less than 10 percent of naturally-spawned walleye eggs will hatch.
However, hatching success rates can be as high as 70 percent in a hatchery setting. That’s why every year about this time, you’ll see Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) fisheries biologists working tirelessly at select Kansas lakes. Biologists set nets to capture spawning walleye, then harvest the eggs of ripe females. Once collected, the eggs are then taken to a station where they are fertilized with milt, or sperm, taken from male walleyes caught from the same body of water. After fertilization, the eggs are immediately delivered to the Pratt and Milford fish hatcheries where fish culturists work around the clock to ensure high hatch and survival rates of young walleye, which are then stocked into Kansas lakes as is, or used to produce other hybrid fish species. Last year, KDWPT’s Walleye Culture Program produced 43 million walleye fry (just hatched fish) and 660,000 walleye fingerlings (2-inch fish). With that same batch of eggs, KDWPT staff were also able to produce 7.5 million saugeye fry, 400,000 saugeye fingerlings (walleye/sauger hybrids).
In addition to walleye, KDWPT hatcheries also produce bluegill, channel catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, redear sunfish, sauger, saugeye, smallmouth bass, striped bass, and wipers.
For more information on KDWPT hatcheries and the fish they produce, visit and click “Fishing/Hatcheries.”

Enter Wild About Kansas Youth Photo Contest Now

Your next outdoor photo could land you in Kansas Wildlife & Parks magazine

Whether it’s a snapshot of a peaceful moment fishing on the lake, the fiery colors of a Kansas sunset, or the image of a white-tailed fawn at rest, Kansas Wildlife & Parks magazine staff want to see Kansas outdoors through the lens of your camera. Photo submissions for the 2nd annual “Wild About Kansas” junior photo contest are being accepted now through Oct. 24, 2014. Participants can submit photos in three categories: wildlife, outdoor recreation or landscapes. There is no fee to enter, and the contest is open to both residents and nonresidents, age 18 or younger.
“Kansas is a state filled with a plethora of diverse and awe-inspiring natural resources, and this contest is just one more way we can enjoy and share those resources with others,” said Kansas Wildlife & Parksmagazine associate editor, Nadia Marji.
Budding photographers can submit up to three photos and multiple entries may be submitted in the same category. Photos must be taken within the state of Kansas and must be the entrant’s original work. Each photo will be judged on creativity, composition, subject matter, lighting, and the overall sharpness. First, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes will be awarded in each category, as well as one honorable mention per category. Winners will be featured in the Kansas Wildlife & Parks January/February 2015 photo issue.
Entries must be received no later than 5 p.m. on Oct. 24, 2014. An entry form must be submitted for each participant. Photo format should be JPEG and a file size should be not less than 1mb and not more than 5mb.
For more information and entry forms, visit, or contact Nadia Marji [email protected]

Kansas Wetlands Education Center Offers Prairie-chicken Lek Tours

Lek tours draw people from around the world each year to the Great Plains

While most people are still snug in their beds, prairie-chickens are busy putting on a show that is critical to their survival. Each spring, just before dawn, male prairie-chickens can be seen strutting around on communal mating grounds known as “leks,” where they fight, sing, and dance to win the affections of females. Only the most extravagant displays will do, and only the best males will get to mate.
Kansas prairies are the stronghold of both species of prairie-chickens, the greater and the lesser. The greaters inhabit the tallgrass and mid-grass prairies of the Flinthills in east-central Kansas and the Smoky Hills of northcentral Kansas. Lesser prairie-chickens inhabit the shortgrass prairies of southwest and west-centralKansas.
“On a still morning on the prairie, the greater prairie-chicken’s song, called a boom, can be heard over a mile away,” said Kansas Wetlands Education Center (KWEC) manager Curtis Wolf. “It is one of the most comical and unique natural phenomenon people can watch.”
Male greater prairie-chickens boom by expelling air from sacks on their throats called timpani. When inflated, the orange timpani are all part of the elaborate display that includes rapid foot stomping, booming, clucking and posturing. The dancing is periodically stopped when the birds rush to invisible boundary lines to defend their display territory against other dancing males.
The KWEC at Cheyenne Bottoms, 10 miles northeast of Great Bend on K-156 Highway, invites you to come and witness this wonderful show during a greater prairie-chicken lek tour. Tours are available to the public, age 12 and older, by reservation, April 1-30. The cost is $25 per person and reservations must be made at least two days in advance by calling the KWEC at (877) 243-9268. Tours are not available on all days and are limited to seven people, so interested parties are encouraged to inquire about availability.
Participants will meet and leave from the KWEC between 5:30-5:45 a.m., depending on the time of sunrise. Staff will drive participants to a local greater prairie-chicken lek, where a trailer blind has been set up. From the blind, participants will be able to observe the prairie-chickens on the lek, while a guide provides information about these interesting birds and their incredible spectacle. Participants should plan on being in the blind for at least three hours with no facilities.
For more information, or to schedule a tour, call the KWEC at (877) 243-9268.
For a list of other prairie-chicken viewings offered throughout the state,

North American Beaver (Castor Canadensis)

North American Beaver (Castor Canadensis)

Photo Credit: Steve Hersey

The north American Beaver is the largest rodent in North America. Because it is semiaquatic, it has webbed hind feetand a flat paddle shaped tail, both of which are clearly evident in the photo.  The front un-webbed paws have claws. Nictitating membranes cover their eyes for vision underwater. Their ears and nostrils close while submerged. They can remain under water for 15 minutes. They construct dams in waterways to regulate water levels where their lodges are built. Wood is not only used for their dams and lodges but as a food source including birch, maple willow, alder, red oak, & ash. Their dams may cause localized flooding but the creation of ponds, wetlands, & riparian habitat makes them a keystone species that increases biodiversity. Not only do aquatic plants colonize these areas but invertebrates, fish, & birds benefit.

Kansas Ecosystems

Kansas Physiographic RegionsIMG_2647V#2

Eleven distinct physiographic regions constitute the landscape in Kansas, distinguished mainly by geology and climate.

The Red Hills is a mixed grass region located in south central Kansas. The predominant grasses include big bluestem, little bluestem, blue gamma, side oats gramma and others. There are also sand sagebrush, evening primrose and heath aster. Trees are mostly confined to areas along draws and include willows like the peach leaf willow, eastern red cedar and hackberries. They derive their name from the iron oxides (rust) that are visible in the IMG_2648V#2hills, buttes & mesas. Layers of white gypsum interrupt the color. Here the air is dry; and, water evaporation exceeds rainfall. Once, large herds of Bison (Bos bison) roamed this area. Currently, a small herd of bison (owned by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism) lives in the Big Basin Prairie Preserve. Pronghorn antelope can also be found in the Red Hills. Wildlife adapted to these dry conditions is nevertheless diverse: prairie rattlesnake, ring-necked snake, Texas horned lizard (horned toads) and even tarantulas.

The Flint Hills is a narrow north to south area of southeast Kansas that constitutes the largest intact tall grass prairie in North America. The soil (flinty limestone) is characterized by layers of flint (chert) making it difficult for plowing by the settlers. The area was once covered by a vast shallow sea, hence the presence of prehistoric sea fossils.

The flint hills ecoregion is distinct from the grasslands of the great plains. The tallgrass prairie of the Flint Hills is comprised of big bluestem, switchgrass and Indian Grass that American Bison once grazed. Today the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve (managed by the Nature Conservancy) contains a herd of bison and some Greater Prairie Chickens. The elk that once lived here are now extant.

The Konza Prairie is a tallgrass prairie biological research station operated by Kansas State University.

The Flint Hills National Wildlife Refuge in the Neosho river valley near John Redmond Reservoir has natural wetlands plus many moist soil management units providing important habitat for migratory birds.  The refuge also contains bottom land hard woods and riparian habitat.

Thousands of mallards, blue-winged teal, Canada geese, and snow geese use this Refuge during spring and fall migrations. The Refuge also provides valuable habitat for shorebirds, warblers, wild turkey, bobwhite quail, bobcats, and white-tailed deer. It is a strategic wintering area for bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, northern harriers, and rough-legged hawks. Because of these qualities, the Refuge has been designated an “Internationally Important Bird Area”.


The Western High Plains of Kansas is a flat to rolling cropland with only a few streams; it is the driest region of Kansas. Major crops include winter wheat, with corn, grain sorghum, and sugar beets grown under irrigation. The natural vegetation includes: 1) mixed grass prairie in the north like needle and thread, blue grama, threadleaf sedge, prairie sandreed, and western wheatgrass; and, 2) shortgrass prairie to the south: blue grama, buffalograss, and scattered, isolated sites with alkali sacaton, western wheatgrass, and inland saltgrass. Wildlife includes: Pronghorn antelope, Lesser prairie chicken, Prairie rattlesnakes, Plains leopard frogs, Ornate box turtles, Spadefoot toads, and Woodhouse’s toads. Forbs also occur such as: Three foot tall Sand sagebrush, Scarlet gaura, Field goosefeet, Scarlet globemallow, & Wild begonia. Forbs such as aster are the main food source for deer and pronghorn antelope.

Smaller distinct areas within this large area of western Kansas are:

1) Sandsage prairie, a sliver of rolling sand plains laying over sandstone near Garden City just south along the Arkansas River often called. It has few perennial streams so crops require irrigation. It is predominantly rangeland but the historic vegetation is sand sagebrush, sand bluestem, prairie sandreed, and little bluestem.

2) Moderate Relief Rangeland along the Smokey Hill River & South Fork of the Republican Rivers with only intermittent streams and a few large perennial streams with reduced flow due to agricultural demand that has reduced the watertable as the Ogallala Aquifer

shrinks. Water is scarce; many riparian (streamside) areas are becoming depleted allowing native grasses to become crowded out by invasive weeds. Local communities are changing farming and ranching practices to address these challenges. Some ranchers are employing rotational or seasonal grazing practices to help protect sensitive riparian areas. It is mostly short grass prairie (blue grama and buffalograss on upland sites) and little bluestem, side oats grama along slopes; and mixed grass prairie.

3) Rolling Cropland in the southwestern corner of the state.

The Prairie Dog is a good ecosystem concept to study. For more about complex issues on the high plains visit Learning Landscapes.

Playas in Scott County Kansas

Playas in Scott County Kansas by Catherine S. Evans, Kansas Geological Survey.

Cimarron National Grasslands near Elkart Kansas (SW corner of Kansas)

Cimarron National Grasslands near Elkart Kansas (SW corner of Kansas)

Sunflower Field by Diego Delso.

Sunflower Field by Diego Delso.

The Smoky Hills is a portion of the Great Plains in north central Kansas consisting of limestone, sandstone and chalk that formed by sedimentation during the Cretaceous period when this area of Kansas was covered by a vast sea. Fossils of extinct reptiles like plesiosaurs and mosasaurs that swam in these waters can be found in these rock formations. Today the area is mostly mixed grass prairie, cropland and rangeland.  Hundreds of plant species including purple poppy mallow, prairie wild rose & blue false indigo can be found among little bluestem and side oats grama. Pioneers travelled through it along the Smokey Hill Trail. Animals adapted to this area include pheasant, bobwhite quail, white-tailed deer, beaver, turkey, raccoon, & coyotes. Greater Prairie chickens flourish here but only where native rangeland intermixed with CRP occurs. In the grasslands are kingbirds, meadowlarks & mule deer. Several easterly flowing rivers flow through it including the Republican, Saline, Solomon & Smokey Hill rivers. Kanopolis State Park where the Smokey Hill River is dammed forms a reservoir that attracts a large variety of migrating waterfowl including buffleheads, goldeneyes, pintails, shovelers, mergansers, & geese. Great Blue Heron are a common sight along the shallow waters. Within the lake are walleye, wiper, crappie, largemouth bass & channel catfish.

The Dakota Formation is an aquifer in parts of the Great Plains. The Dakota aquifer is composed of the Cheyenne Sandstone, and the Dakota and Kiowa Formations. Bluffs within Kanopolis State Park along Horsethief Canyon consist of golden tan Cheyenne limestone with the subtle blush of umber & sienna.IMG_2489SorghumSmallest

Horsethief Canyon, Kanopolis State Park

Horsethief Canyon, Kanopolis State Park

Great Bend Sand Prairie (Part of the Central Great Plains)

The Great Bend Sand Prairie is an area of south central Kansas roughly bounded by the cities of Pratt, Hutchinson and Great Bend. The land that remains undeveloped consists of windblown sand, undulating sandy plains, sandy outwash, and dunes. Natural vegetation like sand bluestem, sand dropseed, and sand reedgrass would thrive here, however, important dryland farming of winter wheat and large areas of center pivot irrigation of grain sorghum and alfalfa crops now dominate the landscape.

Image from Google Earth showing density of center pivot irrigation wells in the Great Bend Sand Prairie.

Image from Google Earth showing density of center pivot irrigation wells in the Great Bend Sand Prairie. Click to enlarge.

Sand bluestem photo by Matt Levin

Sand bluestem photo by Matt Levin

Salt flats at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge

Salt flats at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge

The best areas to visit that exemplify or retain historical remnants of this physiographic area are the five following areas.

Quivira National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Stafford, Rice, and Reno counties. In 1955, the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission established the “Great Salt Marsh NWR” because of two unique historical salt marshes located there: the Little Salt Marsh and Big Salt Marsh. The authorized purpose was to manage the refuge as an “inviolate sanctuary” for migratory birds. In 1958, it was renamed to Quivira NWR after the Spanish word “Quivira” for the native American people living there (Kirikuru) when Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s expedition reached there in 1541.

Quivira NWR historically contained sand and mixed- grass prairie dissected by Rattlesnake Creek that would supply Little Salt Marsh during spring overflows. Additionally, saline groundwater discharge from the underlying Great Bend Prairie Aquifer supplied the marshes. The slightly saline Rattlesnake Creek and extremely saline groundwater seepage establishes and maintains the ecosystem. The salt marsh ecosystem is maintained by alternating seasonal flooding and dessication. Understandably, there are high ground water levels that subirrigate alluvial surfaces. Fires have limited most woody vegetation.

Overlying the Permian and Cretaceous bedrock are variable deposits of silt and fine sand with interbedded calcium carbonate. The quartz, feldspar and granite in these deposits implies that the ancestral Arkansas River deposited them from their origin in the Rocky Mountains.

In season, the abundance and variety of migratory waterfowl (such as whooping cranes, sandhill cranes, and snow geese) are worth the drive from anywhere in Kansas. For birds and wildlife present at other times of the year, visit the Quivira NWR homepage at <>.

Long-billed Dowitcher at Quivira NWR by Bob Gress

Long-billed Dowitcher at Quivira NWR by Bob Gress

Pheasant at Quivira NWR by

Pheasant at Quivira NWR by

Slider at Quivira NWR photo from USFWS Mountain-Prairie

Slider at Quivira NWR photo from USFWS Mountain-Prairie

Other interesting Great Bend Sand Prairie Places to Visit:

Cottonwood Flats Wildlife Area: Invasive salt cedar immediately adjacent to the river is being removed to improve turkey habitat. Farther from the river, a mix of native grasses and forbs characterize the southern half of the property.

Pratt Sandhills Wildlife Area: Quail, pheasant, dove, turkey, deer, rabbits and coyotes are found here.

Sandsage Bison Range: The Bison Range was established in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson. It maintains a small herd of bison. The bison range is one of the few tracts of native sandsage prairie in Kansas that has not been converted to irrigated cropland. This ecosystem is unique due to the presence of several tall grass species (e.g. sand bluestem, giant sandreed & sand lovegrass) and sand sagebrush. Wildlife includes the lesser prairie chicken, spotted ground squirrel, kangaroo rat, scaled quail, black-tailed jack rabbit, mule deer, and western hognose snake. Tours can be arranged by the Friends of the Sandsage Bison Range at

Sandhills State Park: This sand prairie has 14 miles of interpretive, hiking and horseback riding trails leading you to wetlands & ponds, grasslands & woodlands plus sand dunes up to 40 feet high.

Additional more detail information can be found at the following links:

Western Corn Belt Plains Ecosystem :

The Western Corn Belt Plains Ecosystem is an area in the extreme northeast corner of Kansas that extends into Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Historically this area had been tallgrass prairie, but currently over 90 percent of the Western Corn Belt Plains ecoregion is cropland (corn & soybeans) with most of the rest used for livestock forage. Its agricultural success is due to dependable precipitation and fertile soils. The eastern segment abutting upon the Missouri River has deep loess hills (Kansas Loess Hills) that could support tallgrass prairie. Scattered oak-hickory forests claim the stream valleys.

The more westerly loess-covered hills have areas of exposed glacial till (Loess and Glacial Drift Hills) that had more extensive tallgrass prairie historically and less oak-hickory forest than found along the eastern segment.

As with many agricultural and livestock enterprises, there are environmental consequences here due to soil erosion and runoff of fertilizer, pesticide and herbicides that contaminate surface and ground water.

Two Sample Areas to Visit in the Western Corn Belt Plains Ecosystem: Atchison State Fishing Lake and Weston Bend Bottomlands.

Atchison State Fishing Lake (built in 1957 as Hetherington Lake) is surrounded by these oak-hickory woodlands; and elm, locust, willow, and silver maple complete a rich riparian woodland. You can expect white-tailed deer, raccoons, and both fox squirrels and gray squirrels as well as a resident population of Canada geese. Red-eyed vireos, yellow-throated vireos, blue-gray gnatcatchers, and summer tanagers build nests here. You will hear chuck-will’s-widow and whip-poor-wills. When the fall and spring migrations take place you’ll be rewarded with the sight of mallards, pintails, goldeneyes and redheads.

Maybe you’ll see some interesting snakes that reside in this part of the state: Diamondback Water Snake, Western rat snake, Smooth Earth snake, and the Redbelly snake.

   Weston Bend Bottomlands (on the Kansas side of the Missouri River below the limestone bluffs of Fort Leavenworth) is a superb example of Kansas riparian bottomlands with cottonwoods, sycamore maples, walnut, elm, and ash. There are also raspberry bushes and elderberries.

There are also many native northern pecan trees which were probably planted hundreds of years ago either by the French or by Native Peoples and which form the northwestern most native pecan grove in the United States.  These groves were noted in the journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804.

A trail system will treat you to the sound and sight of pileated woodpeckers. Less noisy are the white tailed deer and foxes. There are beaver and raccoons. Prominent sycamores support huge stick nests built by great blue herons. During spring and fall migrations you can spot grosbeaks, towhees, orioles, plus various buntings, vireos, and warblers.

Campsite at Atchison State Fishing Lake; Photo by

Campsite at Atchison State Fishing Lake; Photo by

A Million Snow Geese at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge

Over a million Lesser Snow Geese have stopped to refuel on waste corn on farmland surrounding the Squaw Creek Wildlife Refuge recently. These geese are traveling the central flyway and will soon leave to continue their northern migration to nesting grounds in northern Canada and the Arctic. The mature white phase geese are white except for the black underside of their wingtips. The immature white phase geese are a pale grey. A dark phase Snow Goose has bluish-gray upperparts with brownish underparts while retaining the white head & neck.
Their populations have expanded during the last 15 years as they have learned to use waste seed to become better nourished. This has resulted in greater survival rates. If you have the opportunity to visit the refuge, it will be a wonderful experience. The geese spend time on the refuge between 10 am to 3 pm for best viewing. Driving from most places in northeast Kansas is anywhere between an hour & a half to two hours at the most. To see the higher resolution photos visit
-Ted Beringer, Kansas Wildlife Federation

Massive Conservation Coalition Calls on Interior Dept. to Stop Wildlife Deaths from Feral Cats


Contact: Robert Johns, 202-888-7472, mobile: 703-955-6622, Email click here

Washington, D.C., March 11, 2014) The largest coalition ever assembled on the issue of wildlife mortality from feral cats—including more than 200 groups—has called on Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell in a letter to take action to reduce mortality to wildlife populations on public lands stemming from the nation’s ever-increasing population of feral cats. The coalition includes a broad range of groups, from national bird and wildlife conservation organizations to animal rights groups and state government agencies.

“The number of domestic cats in the United States has tripled over the last 40 years and continues to rise,” said Dr. George Fenwick, President of the Washington, DC-based American Bird Conservancy. “We are asking Secretary Jewell to take actions that will protect our native wildlife from 150 million feral and outdoor cats that are decimating wildlife populations in the most sacrosanct of locations, such as wildlife refuges, national parks, and other important public lands.”

“Domestic cats have been either a direct or indirect factor in 33 bird species extinctions and have been identified by the science community as one of the world’s worst invasive species. Rational heads have prevailed in terms of how stray dogs are treated. Stray cats should be treated much the same way. Turning a blind eye to this problem will only perpetuate the escalating impacts to birds and other wildlife, as well as threaten human health and safety,” said Susan Elbin, Director of Conservation and Science, New York City Audubon Society.

“Cats out in the natural environment are rapidly proliferating and are also extremely efficient predators of wildlife, squirrel sized and smaller, often to devastating effect. If we are to conserve native wildlife, cat populations as well as other ecologically disruptive invasive species, must be controlled by natural resource professionals especially on lands dedicated for conservation purposes. Cat owners should also be educated as to impacts to the environment of their cats and as responsible pet owners should keep them inside,” said Manley Fuller, President of the Florida Wildlife Federation.

In spite of evidence showing the environmental harm caused by feral cats, state and local decision-makers continue to consider legislation supporting the practice of “Trap, Neuter, Release” (TNR) to maintain feral cat colonies. For example, the State of Maryland is holding a public hearing on Wednesday, March 12 at 1:00 pm to consider S.B. 1010, a bill that would support the continued growth of feral cat programs in the state.

The groups signed on to the letter say that feral cats are a common problem on many federal lands and ask that each agency, such as the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management, develop a clear policy for the removal of cat colonies on the federal lands they are responsible for stewarding.

The letter to Secretary Jewell outlines that, in the past year, a series of new scientific studies has been published documenting extensive wildlife mortality resulting from cat predation, as well as a growing risk to human health from rabies and toxoplasmosis spread by cats and the ineffectiveness of TNR programs at stemming cat populations. “As Secretary, you are in a position to direct action to conserve wildlife and to adopt land management policies that will ensure public lands are not degraded by the presence of cat colonies,” the letter says.

The feral cat issue was raised earlier with former DOI Secretary Ken Salazar. While discussions with DOI officials have taken place, no meaningful actions have been taken by to address the problem.

The groups reference a 2013 study by scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that estimated that approximately 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals are killed in the United States by outdoor cats every year. While both owned and feral (or un-owned) cats contribute to this mortality, feral cats are responsible for over two-thirds of these bird deaths and nearly 90 percent of mammal deaths.

“People—and not the cats themselves—are responsible for this problem,” stated Fenwick. “It all stems from irresponsible pet ownership and, sadly, has led to cat predation becoming the number-one source of direct human-caused mortality for birds and mammals.”

Most recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that feral cat colonies pose a threat to human health. According to the CDC, cats are consistently the number-one carrier of rabies among domestic animals and disproportionately pose a risk of human exposure to rabies because of the increased likelihood of human-cat interactions. A recently published study led by CDC scientists stated, “The propensity to underestimate rabies risk from cats has led to multiple large-scale rabies exposures.” In addition, according to the Florida Department of Health, continued tolerance for roaming feral cats is “not tenable on public health groundsbecause of the persistent threat posed to communities.”

Another growing health concern is toxoplasmosis, which threatens the health and welfare of people and wildlife. This disease is caused by a parasitic protozoan that depends on cats to complete its life cycle. Up to 74 percent of all cats will host the toxoplasmosis-causing parasite in their lifetime and shed hundreds of millions of infectious eggs as a result. Studies show that any contact with cat feces, either direct or indirect, risks human and wildlife health. In humans the parasite often encysts within the brain, which may cause behavioral changes and has been linked to memory loss, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, and other neuro-inflammatory diseases. Pregnant women may suffer sudden abortion or fetal developmental defects (e.g., blindness). Wildlife are similarly at risk. Perhaps most concerning is that the parasite may persist in water sources critical to humans and wildlife. Contamination of watersheds with cat feces has been linked to the infections of people as well as freshwater and marine wildlife (e.g., river otters, beluga whales, Hawaiian monk seals).

The groups signing the letter to Secretary Jewell assert that TNR programs fail to reduce cat populations and cannot be relied upon as a management tool to remove cat colonies or protect people and wildlife—as multiple peer-reviewed studies, including the CDC’s, have found. According to one study: “No plausible combinations of life history variables would likely allow for TNR to succeed in reducing [feral cat] population size.” Scientists in another studysaid that, “We suggest that supporters of managed cat colonies seek a long-term solution to the pet overpopulation issue by redirecting their efforts toward the underlying problem of managing irresponsible pet owners.”

The issue of feral cat management was the subject of a lengthy Miami Herald article this past weekend by award-winning journalist Fred Grimm. The article chronicled the failure of elected officials to heed myriad warnings from a host of world-class scientists on the dangers and impacts of exploding feral cat populations while legislators, at the same time, pass pro-feral cat legislation that aids the decimation of local wildlife populations and poses a health threat to their constituents—all at the behest of a single interest group: cat advocates.