It’s time to take the problem seriously

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Last week I was sitting on our bench, watching intently that while the grass in the backyard was in desperate need of mowing, it would have to be rescheduled because the birds were flocking to our bird feeder. Too bad!

And besides, a squirrel was busy gleaning the sunflower seeds that the goldfinches were throwing aside.

Suddenly, a black and white blurry slipped under the porch and crashed into the squirrel.

I can’t describe what happened in the next five seconds because the two shapes were fighting fiercely and moving too fast for my eyes to follow. But the end of that engagement came quickly, with the squirrel rushing to the nearest tree while a wild cat raced towards the nearby forests.

I didn’t know the cat was waiting on the porch. Heck, I didn’t even know it was anywhere on the property. But that’s one of the reasons we have so many feral cats. They are the absolute masters of the stealth approach and the hunt. And they are fatal most of the time.

I have nothing against domestic cats as pets as long as they are still under control. But I have a deep aversion to any cat roaming free and looking for something to kill. They are almost perfect killing machines.

And several recent studies confirm that they literally kill hundreds of millions of wild birds (and small mammals) every year.

Keep in mind that feral cats are an invasive species. And much like an invasive chubby-headed fish in an aquarium versus a wild fish living in a tributary of the Hudson River, cats kill for a living. They kill anything they can kill, and that most often means songbirds and small mammals.

Chipmunks, baby rabbits, young squirrels, wood rats and dozens of other species are hunted. Many species of birds are also potential prey. Nothing small and “killer” is safe from a wild and feral domestic cat.

How serious is this problem? Based on scientific studies, there is an estimated population of over 80 million feral cats in America. A recent study from Wisconsin found that 17 to 30 million songbirds were killed each year by cats in this state.

This staggering problem is exasperated at this time of year. Many recently fledged young birds, such as robins, still do not fly very well and are not fully aware of the many dangers they could face. Scientific studies prove that competent cats can kill 10-20 or more young birds in a day.

I am fully aware that not all cats that roam outside without being checked are wild. Some are highly regarded pets, released daily or nightly by well-meaning owners to “enjoy” the outdoors.

But what is the difference with the bird victim of a domestic animal or a wild cat? And while the house cat may not have the sharp hunting skills of its wild cousin, it remains a killing machine in its own right.

I’m completely amazed by states like Massachusetts where so-called humanitarian organizations actively capture feral cats, then sterilize or neuter them and release them back into the wild. If someone really loves nature, it is madness. This is pure nonsense.

How could anyone hate our little wild birds and mammals to the point of triggering a killing machine they once had in their care?

People who own domestic cats should keep them indoors or on a secure cable or chain. If they absolutely have to be outside, then leave them like a dog. After all, isn’t that the least we can do for our smallest wild critters?

He needs a bigger boat

Joey Nocchi and two friends were enjoying a sea kayaking and fishing trip off Cambria, Calif., When something very large literally slammed into his little boat from below, sending it five feet into the air.

He descended into the cold water, got back into his boat, and rowed “quickly” to shore.

There was a 22 inch “bite” from his boat, which was apparently made by a great white shark about 14 feet long. Fortunately, no one got hurt.

Personally I prefer to avoid the big sharks so if I go kayaking it will be on Canandaigua Lake and very close to the shore.

Another challenge for the deer

There is a potential problem that some deer hunters face. Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) has once again raised its ugly head in some popular deer hunting areas. Fortunately, these areas are limited and none are near the Finger Lakes region or points to the west.

EHD is a fatal situation for deer. It is always fatal once a deer is infected. Fortunately, humans are not affected by any deer (or game meat) suffering from an infection. However, infected deer cannot survive once they have it. It is always fatal for them.

The disease is caused by the bites of certain midges, tiny flying insects. They are usually present in swarms in late summer and fall. Their bites, usually around a deer’s eyes and nose, transfer the disease.

Areas where infections have been found include much of the central and eastern Catskills. And infected deer have also been found in Oswego and Lewis counties. There are also outbreaks in other areas near known infected counties.

Fortunately, there have been no reports of infections in western New York City, west of the Syracuse area.

DEC has so far received reports of around 1,150 dead deer in 20 counties, with the largest number of reports coming from East Ulster County and, to a lesser extent, Dutchess, Columbia and Greene counties. For other counties, including those in the Oswego region and points east of that region, they have received reports of only a handful to several dozen deer.

Always keep in mind that while several hundred dead deer in a county may seem like a lot, it is actually only a tiny fraction of the total deer population. This is a relatively minor number compared to what hunters usually harvest. For example, hunters typically harvest around 4,000 deer each year in Ulster County alone.

Hunters should remember that NY had an outbreak of EHD in September of last year. This outbreak resulted in the deaths of around 1,500 deer in eight southeastern counties, but was mainly concentrated in Putnam and Dutchess counties.

The DEC documented a reduction in the number of antlerless deer subsequently harvested by hunters in Putnam County last season, but hunters there have found and harvested antlerless deer to levels similar to previous years, despite the EHD epidemic. We have seen no evidence that EHD has an impact on the deer harvest in Dutchess, Greene, Orange or other affected counties last year.

Deer populations in counties affected by EHD are very robust and DEC expects them to quickly return to pre-outbreak levels.

However, individual properties that have been heavily impacted this year are likely to see fewer deer for several years. And just for the record, the DEC took into account last year’s EHD outbreak when it allocated DMPs for this year’s hunting seasons.

Another note deserves to be mentioned. DEC will continue to monitor the current EHD situation and assess the impact of deer sighting rates as well as hunter reported catches. If the DEC documents a substantial reduction in the deer population that is not in line with its population management goals, it will adjust future amounts of DMP accordingly, primarily to slow down the population reduction.

And here’s the bottom line. This epidemic is expected to end soon. The midges die with the first hard frost, which usually occurs in Southeastern New York around mid-October.

To help DEC make better deer management decisions, it needs the best information. Contact them to report suspected EHD deer.

Len Lisenbee is the outside columnist for The Daily Messenger. Contact him at [email protected]


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