The West Eugene Wetlands area is one of the many places around town where the wild abuts the urban, and managing domestic animals overlaps with native species. EWEB’s Roosevelt Operations Center (aka the ROC) was designed amid about 14 acres of restored wetlands, and wild creatures have moved back in, including raptors and skunks. But according to Becky Long, EWEB is not doing a good job with the feral cat population that has also moved into the ROC.
Long worked for EWEB for 22 years before leaving last January. Before she left, she was a lead in implementing a modified TNR (trap, neuter, release) program to deal with the cats. Long says that when she learned in 2012 that a contractor was hired to kill nutria (an invasive species) that were coming into the back lot where EWEB vehicles park, and that there was a plan to deal with the cats as well, she knew she had to step in.
She says she convinced EWEB to allow her and other volunteers to trap, spay/neuter and then rehome the cats. Because the cats were not being released, it took longer to find them homes. According to Long, nine cats were successfully caught and rehomed but with four remaining — a mother and her three kittens — before EWEB cut the program off.
Long worries about the kitties, which had become accustomed to being fed. “To begin a program like this and then to have it discontinued without any discussion is a real tragedy,” she says. “EWEB has a chance to be a successful role model in the community, but their lack of communication and understanding of the facts is getting in the way.”
Steve Newcomb, environmental manager at EWEB, says the program was discontinued because the high protein cat food was luring skunks too close to the buildings, and while native skunks are fine in the wetlands, EWEB prefers they not start hanging out near the buildings. Newcomb says that the utility is hoping the skunks will disperse because he doesn’t want to have to do something with the creatures — like trap them.
Long argues that it’s garbage in the Dumpsters, and the mess around them, that has lured the skunks in.
Brooks Fahy of Predator Defense says he finds it “hard to believe that small amount of cat food and limited feeding that that would be an issue.” According to Fahy, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife “gives out kill permits like candy” and “EWEB, when it comes to issues like this, always ready to kill something.” Long alleges that EWEB has already trapped and killed some of the skunks.
Newcomb says EWEB is trying to avoid trapping the skunks because “there’s no good answers for that one — relocating them seems kind of mean.” It’s a difficult situation, he says, with a wetlands habitat in an urban area, but in a big-picture context the ROC’s integrated wetland is very successful and has attracted waterfowl and “a fair number of mammals.” He adds that he likes cats and has nothing against them, but he’d “prefer not to see the cats as part of ecosystem out there,” pointing out that they eat birds, and a potential solution is to stop feeding them.