Thousands of Wisconsin residents voted in support of a proposal that would allow hunters to shoot and kill cats, state officials said on Tuesday.

But state legislators must first pass a law before any sportsmen can take aim at tabbies, tomcats or calicoes running wild in the North Woods. Feral cat hunting was proposed by La Crosse, Wisconsin, citizen Mark Smith, but a state advisory panel must decide whether it should even be considered by the lawmakers.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said an advisory poll conducted in all of the state’s counties Monday evening found 6,380 residents in favor and 5,201 opposed to declaring domestic cats gone wild an “unprotected species” and open to being shot by licensed small arms hunters — just like skunks and raccoons.

More than 13,000 people attended the meetings, nearly twice as many as participated on average in the last 20 years.

Officials said debate at the meetings was sometimes heated. Feline fanciers complained pets might get shot; farmers worried valuable barn cats might be mistaken for feral prowlers; and others cited a growing problem of wild cats attacking song birds and disturbing backyard birdfeeders.

“This proposal generated a great deal of discussion everywhere,” Bill Smith, deputy secretary of the department, said after the results were tallied and announced on Tuesday. “The thing I’m most proud of is the way folks handled themselves. People generally were polite and respectful of each other regardless of their position on this question. This is the way the process is supposed to work.”

At its annual meeting next month, the Wisconsin Conservation Congress will review the poll before advising the state on whether it thinks Smith’s proposal should be forwarded to state conservation officials, who would then decide whether to ask the state legislature to make it law.

More here.