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September 4, 2003
Contact:  Angie Raines (850) 488-4676

An administrative law judge issued an Aug. 29 ruling that upholds Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) authority to establish a policy regarding feral cats. , Judge David M. Maloney issued a summary final order saying the FWC did not violate any procedures by formulating a policy to protect wildlife from the threat of free-ranging domestic cats.

Friday’s ruling by the State of Florida, Division of Administrative Hearings clears the way for the FWC to proceed with a policy which places the highest priority on protecting imperiled species living on public lands. The FWC is especially concerned about feral cat predation on imperiled species and the potentially significant disease threats to wildlife, such as the endangered Florida panther. Domestic cats are the most common carriers, among domestic animals, of rabies and can transmit the disease to wildlife.

Commission Chairman Edwin Roberts said he hopes this settles the policy dispute, and looks forward to cooperating with all groups concerned with the feral cat issue.

He said, “The FWC is mandated by the Florida Constitution and entrusted by the people of Florida to protect Florida’s wildlife. The agency is compassionate and caring about all animal welfare issues. I encourage anyone who cares about animals – domestic cats or native wildlife -- to work with the FWC for the benefit of both.”

Following a staff review and a time for citizen comment, the FWC adopted a policy on feral cats at its May 30 meeting. Several days later, a feral cat organization and a Hillsborough County resident filed a petition alleging the FWC had not followed proper administrative procedure in adopting the policy. The administrative law judge disagreed and the FWC prevailed, confirming it has the constitutional authority, and indeed the responsibility, to protect Florida’s native wildlife from adverse effects of feral cats.

The policy provides a foundation for FWC staff to seek science-based, humane solutions when cats threaten rare wildlife. It calls for cooperation between the FWC, other land-management agencies and citizen groups to prevent the release or feeding of cats on public lands which support wildlife habitat. In particular, the Commission directed staff to work closely with interested community-based groups to resolve issues with feral cats.

A significant recommendation in the policy statement is a public-awareness campaign encouraging responsible cat ownership by showing the impact feral and free-ranging cats pose to native wildlife.





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