The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division (DOW) has proposed a limited season running from Nov. 10, 2018 to Jan. 31, 2019 that would see a total harvest of 60 cats in two southern Ohio trapping zones.
Zone B, made up of 12 southeast counties, would see a quota of 20 cats. Zone C, made up of 11 more southern counties, would see a 40-cat total. Bag limit would be one bobcat per trapper. The season would end once the quota is reached in each zone.
Council members listened intently to a half-dozen speakers from “Save Ohio Bobcats” who were on hand for the meeting.
Dr. Jeff Crecelius, a pediatrician from Vinton County, led the conversation. He said it is too soon to begin trapping bobcats — even on a limited basis.
He argued that it’s been only four years since bobcats came off Ohio’s endangered species list and that wildlife biologists don’t really know how many are living in the state. He called the population “extremely vulnerable.”
Crecelius urged council to delay any decision on trapping bobcats until results of a four-year $245,000 population study of the furbearer by Ohio University are in. That study, funded by the DOW will conclude in 2020.
He said the proposed trapping season is simply for “recreation” and is not aimed at population or nuisance control.
Others in the “Save Ohio Bobcats” group also addressed council. Most echoed Crecelius’ remarks and urged a delay in trapping until more scientific data about the animals is collected and evaluated.
One said bobcats are valuable predators that kill white-footed mice — carriers of lyme disease. Another said bobcat numbers are already limited by the availability of prey in Ohio. A retired zoologist from the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium questioned DOW objectives, asking how biologists decided on the 60-cat quota and if there’s any real science behind the number.
Dave Linkhart from the National Trappers Association and Keith Daniels from the Ohio Trappers Association spoke in support the proposed season.
Linkhart said a limited harvest would not impact the total bobcat population in Ohio since it is likely far more than verified numbers reported to the DOW.
“The science is there,” Linkhart said.
Daniels denied the proposed season is a politically motivated “rush job” aimed at rewarding the trapping community for its past support of the DOW. He said members are “not rolling over” on the issue.
Daniels also noted there’s little financial incentive to harvest bobcats since a pelt from an Ohio animal earns a relatively low $35.
Prior to the public comment period, biologist Mike Reynolds presented the DOW’s most recent research and survey data on bobcats.
He said online responses to the proposed trapping ran heavily in opposition with 48 percent of respondents saying they were against it and 20 percent supporting. Thirty-four percent were undecided.
Reynolds argued that it was unnecessary to wait for completion of the OU research since the study’s fieldwork will already be done by November. He said harvested bobcats will provide unbiased demographic data on the status of Ohio’s bobcats — unlike sampling from road-killed bobcats that are mostly young males seeking breeding territory.
Reynolds said the DOW recorded 499 verified bobcat sightings as of Dec. 22, 2017 and has received many more reports since then. Their numbers appear to be growing yearly, Reynolds noted.
As for exact numbers, Reynolds said those are hard to come by not only for bobcats, but for all wildlife species. He said the state also estimates the numbers of white-tailed deer, coyote, black bear and others.
Wildlife council members are expected to vote on the proposed bobcat trapping season at their May 17 meeting.
Considered extirpated from Ohio in 1850, bobcats have been making a big comeback in Ohio in recent years. Their resurgence may be partly the result of debris left behind when patches of woodland are cleared for oil and gas drilling. That debris provides ideal nesting territory for the furbearers, biologists say.
While the secretive, nocturnal bobcat is generally found in southern and eastern Ohio, a trail camera recorded one prowling along Big Darby Creek near Madison County last year. Biologists say the animals are following wooded stream corridors into primarily row-crop areas of the state.
Anyone spotting a bobcat can report the sighting at http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/species-and-habitats/report-wildlife-sightings.
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