Superior Court Orders City of Los Angeles To Stop Controversial Feral Cat Program Pending Environmental Review

T h e U r b a n Wi l d l a n d s G r o u p , I n c .
P.O. Box 24020, Los Angeles, California 90024-0020, Tel (310) 247-9719
Contact: Babak Naficy, Esq. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Law Office of Babak Naficy December 7, 2009
(805) 593-0926
Travis Longcore, Ph.D.
Science Director
The Urban Wildlands Group
(310) 247-9719

Conservation groups win suit to force city to conduct required environmental review of
feral cat program
Six conservation groups won a lawsuit on Friday against the City of Los Angeles and its
Department of Animal Services to stop the practice of encouraging feral cat colonies until the
legally required environmental impact reviews are performed.
The Los Angeles Superior Court found that the City of Los Angeles had been “secretly and
unofficially” promoting “Trap-Neuter-Return,” a controversial program to allow feral cats to run
free, even while the Department of Animal Services promised to conduct an environmental
review of the program. The Court ordered the City to stop implementing TNR.
The plaintiffs, The Urban Wildlands Group, Endangered Habitats League, Los Angeles Audubon
Society, Palos Verdes/South Bay Audubon Society, Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society, and the
American Bird Conservancy, sued the City in June 2008 to ensure that the controversial program
to sanction and maintain feral cat colonies was not implemented before a full and public
environmental analysis.
The groups decided legal action was necessary after their investigation revealed that the City had
been unofficially implementing a so-called “Trap-Neuter-Return” program and the City
repeatedly declined their request to stop implementing the program until environmental review
was performed.
Although the City insisted that no such program existed, the Court concurred with the
conservation groups and concluded in its Friday ruling that, “implementation of the program is
pervasive, albeit ‘informal and unspoken.’”
“Our goal was to see that the City follows the California Environmental Quality Act by
thoroughly assessing the program’s impacts on the environment and considering alternatives and
mitigation measures before making specific programmatic decisions,” said Babak Naficy,
attorney for plaintiffs.
“Feral cats have a range of impacts to wildlife, human health, and water quality in our cities.
The impacts of institutionalizing the maintenance of feral cat colonies through TNR should be
discussed in an open, public process before any such program is implemented,” Naficy said.
In June 2005, the Los Angeles Board of Animal Services Commissioners adopted TNR as the
“preferred method of dealing with feral cat populations as its official policy.” Thereafter, the
Board directed the General Manager to prepare an analysis of the program under the California
Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
This analysis was never completed but the Department implemented major portions of the
program anyway.
The Department issued coupons for free or discounted spay/neuter procedures for feral cats
being returned to neighborhoods and open spaces, including parks and wildlife areas. It also
began refusing to accept trapped feral cats or to issue permits to residents to trap feral cats.
The Department assisted outside organizations that performed TNR by donating public space,
advertising their services, and referring the public to their TNR programs. The Department even
encouraged and assisted in establishing new feral cat colonies at City-owned properties.
The Superior Court recognized these actions as illegal implementation of the TNR program that
could have an impact on the environment and enjoined the City from further pursuing the
program until it complied with CEQA.
Dr. Travis Longcore, Science Director of The Urban Wildlands Group, said, “Feral cats are
documented predators of native wildlife. We support spaying and neutering all cats in Los
Angeles, which is the law, but do not support release of this non-native predator into our open
spaces and neighborhoods where they kill birds and other wildlife.”
Even when fed by humans, cats instinctively hunt prey, including birds, lizards and small
mammals. Colonies of feral cats, often thriving with the aid of handouts from humans, harm
native wildlife and contaminate water bodies with fecal bacteria.
Longcore continued, “TNR is promoted as a way to reduce feral cat populations but scientific
research shows that 70–90% of cats must be sterilized for cat populations to decline. This is
virtually impossible to achieve in practice, but population reduction can be achieved with only
50% removal.”
The City must now stop its TNR program and any further proposal to implement such a program
must undergo objective scientific review as part of the CEQA process. This will ensure that the
public has adequate opportunity to comment and that significant impacts on parks, wildlife,
water quality, and human health are avoided.
For further information about Trap-Neuter-Return see:
Longcore, T., C. Rich, and L. M. Sullivan. 2009. Critical assessment of claims regarding
management of feral cats by trap–neuter–return. Conservation Biology 23(4):887–894.
Williams, T. 2009. Felines fatales. Audubon Magazine. Sept-Oct, pp. 30–38.
The Urban Wildlands Group is dedicated to the conservation of species, habitats, and ecological
processes in urban and urbanizing areas.