Bobcat near Guysville

Some Athens County residents spotted this bobcat snagging a squirrel on their trail camera in 2016.

An open house is scheduled for this Saturday in Athens and elsewhere around the state on an Ohio Division of Wildlife Bobcat Management Plan that, if approved, would allow limited trapping of the wild feline in Ohio.

The DOW, a division of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, argues that limited trapping (60 total bobcats statewide) will provide information to improve the DOW’s ability to manage bobcats in Ohio, with an eye toward improving, conserving and increasing their habitat and population.

Athens environmental activist Heather Cantino, however, has condemned the bobcat-trapping proposals as a “dangerous and ill-founded plan.”

Cantino is helping to lead opponents of the trapping proposal, which could be sanctioned as soon as April 11. That’s when the Ohio Wildlife Council is scheduled to vote on the recommendation by the DOW.

“I think there's intense concern about this proposal,” said Cantino, who has led local efforts on a number of environmental causes. “I am very concerned for the protection of bobcats, very concerned about the pseudoscience being used to justify trapping for purely individual selfish gain.”

Cantino maintains this gain would be through the sale of bobcat pelts.

In fact, the Ohio State Trappers Association recently approved a resolution supporting the bobcat trapping initiative in Ohio. The sportsmen’s group reportedly has been requesting a bobcat season for several years now.

The bobcat species is native to Ohio, according to the DOW, and was common throughout the state prior to settlement. However, they were killed out by 1850.

Roughly 100 years later, “they began to repopulate Ohio,” according to the DOW website. “Since then, this cat has been sighted more often every year and is returning ‘home’ to Ohio.”

On Feb. 7, the DOW presented the Ohio Wildlife Council with a series of proposals, including the creation of “a limited bobcat trapping season to support scientific research.” A news release says trapping for bobcats would be allowed in two zones in eastern and southern Ohio from Nov. 10, 2018 through Jan. 31, 2019.

Zone B, in southern Ohio, would include Athens County and the overall limit would be 20 animals. The Zone C (eastern Ohio) limit would be 40, and no trapping would be permitted in Zone A, the majority of the state – most of northern, central and southwestern Ohio.

“Trappers would be required to purchase an additional $5 permit and only be allowed to harvest one bobcat per license year,” states the news release. “Trapping in each zone would close when the quota is reached. The data collected from these bobcats would provide scientists with a better idea of the population in Ohio.”

According to the Bobcat Management Plan, “Effective bobcat management in Ohio requires continued monitoring of bobcat populations and implementation of sustainable harvest management regulations. Because bobcat populations occur at varying densities throughout Ohio, unit-based management recommendations will be needed to address statewide population objectives. Following the initiation of harvest, monitoring harvest with the use of mandatory game-check will be an important component of bobcat management.”

An outdoors column by Larry S. Moore in the Xenia Daily Gazette on Feb. 19 reported that the Ohio trapping season “is proposed in conjunction with a research study conducted by the Division of Wildlife and Ohio University. The research study is to determine and improve bobcat habitat, develop harvest recommendations and implement a conservation plan, establish a protocol for nuisance bobcats and the rehabilitation of any kittens and, finally, to increase public awareness of bobcats in Ohio.”

The Bobcat Management Plan has one section that reports how adjoining and nearby states around Ohio handle hunting or trapping for bobcats.

“In the states surrounding Ohio and the upper Midwest, bobcat harvest occurs in all but one state, Indiana. It is open statewide in Kentucky and West Virginia. Kentucky, with its much larger bobcat population size (Table 3) allows trapping and hunting statewide with a bag limit of five, of which no more than three can be taken by gun. West Virginia is open to bobcat harvest statewide, with a bag limit of three, despite the fact that bobcat occurrence in the border counties with Ohio is rare.”

Cantino objected to the DOW’s rationale for allowing limited bobcat trapping. “There is no justification for killing bobcats if the goal is scientific knowledge,” she said. “There are non-lethal ways of studying bobcats, which ODNR knows because it has just funded a project which has not yet collected data.”

Opponents point out the state removed bobcats from its threatened and endangered species less than four years ago. They contend that should not have been done.

“Increased sightings, while they may reflect some increase in numbers, give no data on how robust that increase or the population is,” said Cantino, “and may largely be due to increased use of trail (cameras).”

She is urging people to comment to ODNR “to save the bobcats.” Public comment can be made here: http://bit.ly/1Ff1ewC. (The proposed rule change is 1501:31-15-17.)

The Bobcat Management Plan can be read and downloaded here. Or go to the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s “bobcat” page and click on “research and studies” to find the link.

The Wildlife Council – an eight member board – will vote on the bobcat trapping and other proposals after DOW open houses this Saturday, March 3. In our area, the open house will be held from noon to 3 p.m. at the DOW’s office at 360 E. State St. in Athens.

Cantino has helped arrange for a room at the Athens Community Center on that same day “so that people can share information.” That meeting will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The online comment form will be available through March 4. – Athens NEWS Editor Terry Smith contributed to this article.

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