Despite passionate opposition from cat lovers, Wisconsin residents supported a plan that would allow hunters to take out wild felines that kill birds and other small mammals.

Residents who attended the meetings of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress (search) voted Monday night to allow hunters to kill cats at will, just like skunks or gophers — something the Humane Society of the United States called cruel and archaic.

The idea still faces several hurdles before it could become law. The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board (search) at its May meeting will decide whether to order the Department of Natural Resources to ask the Legislature to support the change.

Lawmakers — many of whom were steering clear of the issue Tuesday — would have to then pass a bill and get Gov. Jim Doyle (search) to sign it.

A total of 6,830 people voted yes while 5,201 voted no. Fifty-one counties approved the plan, 20 rejected it, and one had a tie, according to results released Tuesday evening by the DNR.

Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, co-chairman of the Legislature's powerful Joint Finance Committee, said he will "work against any proposed legislation to legalize the shooting of feral cats."

The congress, a citizens group that advises the Wisconsin DNR, is considered a strong lobby on behalf of the state's hunters, but members were met by a coalition of cat lovers outraged by the plan proposed by Mark Smith, a La Crosse firefighter. Smith had faced death threats — and the clout of several national animal rights groups strongly denouncing his idea.

Smith proposed that the state should classify wild cats as an unprotected species. The proposal defined such cats as those not under the owner's direct control or wandering by itself without a collar and noted that "feral domestic cats killed millions of small mammals, song and game birds" every year.

Smith and supporters argued that the cats were an invasive species that hurt Wisconsin's wildlife. Critics said it was an inhumane and dangerous plan that would do nothing to reduce the population of feral cats.

Two other upper midwestern states, South Dakota and Minnesota, allow wild cats to be shot. Some estimates indicate 2 million wild cats roam Wisconsin. The state says studies show feral cats kill 47 million to 139 million songbirds a year.