Piping Plover Defenders Gear Up for Trial

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CN) – A parks official is headed to trial on claims that the failure to rein in a colony of feral cats at Jones Beach on Long Island has put a threatened bird population at risk.

Piping plovers are designated as a threatened species in the Atlantic coastal region pursuant to the federal Endangered Species Act, but the American Bird Conservatory complained in a complaint last year that baby chicks were being picked off by two feral cat colonies, one a quarter-mile away from the piping plover nesting area and another a little more than a half-mile away.

Villainizing outdoor cats for causing “billions” of bird deaths and the extinction of 33 bird species, the group wanted a federal court order compelling the state parks commissioner to take action.

Commissioner Rose Harvey moved to dismiss the case but U.S. District Judge Arthur Spatt shot her down Monday.

While the filing lacks specific examples of harm befalling piping plovers at Jones Beach, Spatt said its allegations are enough for now to “support the plausible inference that: (1) Piping Plovers at Jones Beach are at imminent risk of predation by the park’s feral cat population.”

“Accepting the premise that they derive a protectable interest from the birds, the plaintiffs are at a concomitant risk of suffering an injury in fact by the depletion of the species,” the ruling states.

Spatt also found that the complaint sufficiently traces the bird lovers’ injury to conduct by the commissioner of the New York Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

“It seems self-evident that removing a natural predator from the vicinity of the birds’ nesting areas will contribute positively to the survival rate of the local species,” the 28-page ruling states.

While bird lovers welcomed the ruling, friends of the feline at Alley Cat Allies emphasized that the case offers zero evidence of cats impeding piping plover recovery.

“This case is a baseless attack on cats that is misdirecting critical time, money and attention away from true conservation efforts,” the group said in a statement.

With help from attorneys at the firm Hunsucker Goodstein, Alley Cat Allies filed an amicus brief with the court last year. The group voiced confidence that resolution of the case will appease cat and bird lovers alike.

“The best possible means of controlling and reducing the cat population is through sterilization and vaccination, and has been in place at Jones Beach for years,” Alley Cat Allies president and founder Becky Robinson said in a statement. “We believe the current cat control program should be kept in place. Alley Cat Allies, like most Americans, strongly believes that compassionate conservation, with which New York State is succeeding in Jones Beach, is the best approach for cats, birds and all animals.”

Though the cat group has no qualms with the piping plovers, its statement hints at nefarious intent by the bird’s defenders.

“This lawsuit appears to be part of a larger pattern by the American Bird Conservancy to advocate for its vision of an American landscape in which all cats have been eradicated, and it is inappropriately trying to use the Endangered Species Act as a tool to further this dark agenda,” Robinson said.

Despite the cat group’s characterization of the evidence, Judge Spatt’s ruling cites allegations that the commissioner herself has conceded that feral cats pose a threat at Jones Beach.

In addition to writing that the “goal should be the removal of feral cats within New York State Parks,” according to the ruling, the commissioner also apparently cited “a possibility of [feral cats] harming endangered species and threatened wildlife, particularly the piping plover.”

The commissioner must file an answer to the complaint within 20 days.

As alleged in the conservancy’s complaint, the commissioner has stood idly by while members of the public routinely feed, build shelters and otherwise care for the feral cats at Jones Beach, actions that “have allowed the cat colonies to flourish at the expense of the federally protected piping plover.”

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