ODNR bobcat

This photo shows a bobcat in Zaleski State Forest in Vinton County photographed by a trail camera set up by Ohio University’s Conservation Ecology Lab for a research project funded by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. 

Critics of a proposal to allow limited bobcat trapping in parts of Ohio are applauding a decision by the Ohio Wildlife Council Thursday evening to table the proposal indefinitely.

“The tabling of the vote to open a bobcat trap-kill season is a welcome reprieve for Ohio bobcats and a victory for the people of Ohio,” a leading voice in opposition to the proposal, Heather Cantino of Athens, said Thursday evening.

As reported in the Columbus Dispatch Friday morning, the chair of the advisory council, Dr. Paul Mechling II explained at the meeting why the panel voted 6-1 to table the bobcat trap-kill plan. "Our vote tonight is not a no vote against bobcat trapping; rather it's not now. If we get the science and the biology that shows we have a thriving population, we will reconsider this at some other time.”

He suggested that the Wildlife Council – a citizen panel that considers for approval all proposed Ohio Division of Wildlife regulations – might wait for completion of a four-year study being undertaken at Ohio University before considering a bobcat trapping season again. The study is about a quarter of the way finished.

The bobcat trapping proposal would have allowed for 60 total bobcats to be trapped and killed each year; in its “Bobcat Management Plan,” the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife argued that a “sustainable” and “conservative” harvest management program would allow the DOW to obtain more data on bobcat distribution in Ohio and genetic makeup, and to work toward “improving and maintaining” bobcat habitats.

That rationale, however, was slammed by other wildlife experts, as well as government bodies around the state, including, locally, city councils in Athens and Nelsonville and the Athens County Commission.

The local governments and others argue that with bobcats just being taken off Ohio’s endangered species list in 2012 and Ohio’s “threatened” species list in 2014, and with a lack of reliable data on the population numbers of bobcats, it’s premature to begin such a season.

In her statement, Cantino noted that more than 8,000 people had submitted comments or written testimony against the bobcat trap-kill proposal between mid-February and the April 23 deadline for comments. “As of March 31, there had been 1,462 comments against the plan and 19 for it,” she said.

Cantino accused the DOW of distributing “misleading and contradictory” information about the trapping proposal. “So we are very glad that the Division's misinformation and shoddy ‘data’ used to justify their proposal did not fool the (Wildlife) Council members.

“Six of seven voting apparently understood that there was no truth behind the Division’s claims and no science to support the proposal,” Cantino said. “While we may have to fight this battle again, we are now well organized and have support of science, scientists and the vast majority of Ohioans. We will be prepared and meanwhile we celebrate victory!”

Mechling, however, in his statement Thursday evening pointed out (according to the Dispatch article) that the 6-1 vote wasn’t a categorical “no” but rather a vote in favor of delaying approval of the trapping season pending more information. Other members during the meeting, which reportedly was packed with both opponents and supporters of the proposal, also indicated they needed more information and research before making an informed decision.

The proposed bobcat-trapping season would have run from Nov. 10 to Jan. 31, 2019 in two different zones in eastern and southern Ohio (including Athens County). It would end sooner than Jan. 31 if trappers hit the 20-bobcat quota in the southern counties and a 40-cat quota in the eastern region.

Critics had predicted that many more than 60 bobcats would be trapped and killed by the time the DOW had officially registered the 60-animal maximum.

Viorel Popescu, assistant professor of biological sciences at OU, has been conducting a significant four-year study (started last year) of the bobcat population in the region with a $245,000 research grant from the ODNR (using non-lethal means). 

Popescu said Friday that he thinks the Wildlife Council made a “wise decision,” recognizing that “more data and evidence is needed to come to a final conclusion.”

“From our perspective, this gives us the time to get the study going full-speed and get the data that we needed to further inform this process,” Popescu said.

In an interview earlier this year with The Athens NEWS, Popescu said that while two ODNR studies already have been completed on the genetic makeup of Ohio’s bobcats and their diet, his study is meant to look at the difficult question of bobcat population density in Ohio.

“What we’re trying to do is fill out the other missing pieces to get the big picture of what’s happening to bobcats in Ohio,” the professor said.

While Popescu said he believes that the population of bobcats in Ohio is growing, he was careful to say that his research has not yet come to any conclusions; bobcat trapping is also not part of the scope of his research.

In the interview earlier this spring, Popescu, however, also noted that many surrounding states in the Midwest allow bobcat trapping, and there’s been little indication so far that those efforts are harming the overall health of the bobcat populations. Bobcats are “probably the most successful” carnivore species in the United States, Popescu said; the population in Ohio has a more sensitive situation, however, because the big cats were essentially wiped out in Ohio in the mid-1800s.

In West Virginia, for example, hundreds of bobcats are allowed to be trapped each year with no negative effect, Popescu said.

The Ohio Wildlife Council is made up of eight members, seven of whom have some ties to trapping or game hunting, according to the Council’s website – either recreationally or through affiliated organizations or businesses. – Athens NEWS Associate Editor Conor Morris contributed to this article.

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