You've probably already seen the NY Times article attributing the deaths of over 14 BILLION birds and small mammals in the U.S. every year to free roaming cats. The American Bird Conservancy and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute have been trying to dissuade the growing number of humane organizations advocating trap/neuter/return (TNR) of cats who are not considered adoptable to the average person seeking a "pet" cat. These cats may be truly feral (never socialized to humans) or simply accustomed to living outdoors due to a course of events in their lives. My point being that they are individuals and do indeed have preferences and agency when allowed. Taking into account that a percentage of cats are cruelly abandoned and would relish the opportunity to become a 100% indoor couch potato again given the chance, plus tiny kittens (preferably 5-6 weeks of age) born outside who can still be socialized and offered a plush indoor life, other cats will only be happy and sane outdoors with minimal human interaction. It's rarely a black and white issue although "scientists" do their best to make it appear so.
News of note that was omitted from the original story is that one of the Smithsonian researchers was actually arrested for poisoning cats outside her work site and apparently also acts as spokesperson for a zoo, which I think speaks volumes about how she objectifies and perpetuates the exploitation of animals. The NY Times piece follows, along with a very impressive follow-up by a cat advocate.
It's heartening to remember that spay/neuter clinics, such as the Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project here in Puget Sound, are breaking records every year achieving higher numbers of surgeries performed on both owned and free-roaming kitties, and there's a bill being heard in our state capital this week that would enable more low-cost surgeries for dogs and cats in WA. So people want to work towards a no-kill community; the feral and free-roaming felines just need a little extra help from those of us who "get it."