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Bobcats! They’re Everywhere!

Actually, they’re rarely seen in the wild—but the state DEC wants to extend the trapping season, and conservationists aren’t happy

by Alexis Abb on March 1, 2012

“It seems they [the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation] are trying to manage something that isn’t a problem,” said John Sheehan, director of communications for the Adirondack Council.

Sheehan is referring to the Management Plan for Bobcat in New York State, 2012-2017, released by the DEC’s Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources in January. Under this plan, the bobcat trapping season would become the same as hunting season, which runs from Oct. 25 to Feb. 15. The season would be extended in certain hunting and trapping areas in the Adirondack Mountains as well.

Although the trapping season has run from late October to early December for the past 20 years, members of the DEC’s wildlife staff explained in an e-mail, “The main reason for extending the season in the Northern Zone is to provide additional opportunity to harvest a renewable natural resource.”

In lay terms, this means trap and kill more bobcats.

The three stated goals of the draft plan are “maintaining viable population levels, providing for sustainable use and enjoyment by the public, and minimizing negative bobcat-human interaction.”

Asked for specifics on bobcat attacks on humans, DEC staff said they were unaware of any in the past five years. The “negative interaction” referred to in the plan, they clarified, is the killing of small livestock.

The DEC is responsible for managing bobcat populations through “season timing, season length, and regulating legal methods of take.” Bobcats were unprotected in New York until the Legislature granted the DEC authority to establish open hunting and trapping seasons in 1976.

“One way of maintaing or managing an animal population is through hunting and trapping,” said department spokeswoman Wendy Rosenbach. “There were times when we banned hunting because they were endangered.” Rosenbach said while the bobcat numbers are growing, there is not an overpopulation problem in New York.

The DEC Wildlife Bureau estimates that there are 5,000 bobcats in the state. Over the past five years, there have been 332 bobcat observations documented in the area that would be affected by the new management plan. The DEC cites evidence from kills, sighting reports, road-kill recoveries, and incidental capture and release by trappers targeting other animals in drawing the conclusion that “we have robust, healthy, and expanding populations of bobcats.”

But Sheehan countered, “They haven’t produced enough evidence that there is even an increase in population.”

In a January press release, the DEC said that department staff sought input from trappers and small game hunters, “the most common users of the bobcat resource,” to develop a recommendation for the next five years.

Bobcats are about two times the size of a housecat, but they can kill prey much bigger than themselves. They easily adapt to a variety of habitats. Elusive and nocturnal, they are rarely seen by humans, making it hard to track their numbers.

“We are an environmental organization, not an animal-rights group,” Sheehan said of the Adirondack Council. “We recognize trapping and hunting have their places in wildlife management, but it is our responsibility to air on the side of protection, especially with predators because of their contribution to the ecosystem.”

In a letter to the DEC Wildlife Bureau, council conservation director Allison Buckley said the management plan describes the impact deer have on the forest, the high number of deer-related auto accidents, and the estimated $59 million in crop damage ever year. While the overpopulation of deer continues, the interest in hunting them is decreasing. Bobcats are a natural way of controlling the deer problem, she said.

In an interview with the Oneonta Daily Star, DEC wildlife biologist Andy McDuff said the bobcat population could withstand a 20-percent “harvest rate,” although the number was not expected to reach that high..

Over the past few years, bobcat pelt prices have ranged from $50 to $200. Harvesting has increased from less than 100 animals in 1978 to around 500 in 2010.

The 30-day period to comment on the proposal ended Feb. 16. The DEC is reviewing the comments and preparing a response, which may take months, said Rosenbach.

“Our concern is that the longer trapping season will increase the number of kills,” Sheehan said. “There is a higher success rate of trapping versus hunting. You can set the trap and come back 24 hours later. Hunting requires much more patience and time.”