The Ohio Division of Wildlife (DOW) is proposing a bobcat trap-kill season to start this fall in southeast Ohio. The decision will be made May 2 by the Ohio Wildlife Council, eight hunter-trappers, with NO wildlife biologists on the council. There is one public hearing (9 a.m., April 12, in north Columbus). The species was taken off the threatened and endangered list less than four years ago. An unlimited number of permits will sell for $5 each. Ohio Revised Code 1501:31-16-01 values a single bobcat at $500. Bobcat fur coats sell for $150,000 in Russia and China.
The DOW itself wrote in October 2017 that “the rate of expansion and the area currently occupied by bobcats as well as population size are still unknown,” and the population’s “viability is unclear… Little is known about the density and distribution of bobcats in Ohio, as well as the population trajectory, and which areas act as source populations. Such information is critical before decisions are taken on opening a trapping season and the maximum yearly take” (emphasis added). This DOW report states it will take four years to collect and analyze data to establish population viability. (So-called “verified sightings” do not indicate how many different individuals were seen. Even the DOW says that the recent claimedincrease in sightings may be due to the new boom in trail cams.) So why the rush and sudden turn-around?? Politics and pressure from the Ohio Trappers Association seem to be trumping the DOW’s own recent science-based plan to protect Ohio’s top native predator species.
DOW has just funded a four-year Ohio University study to estimate abundance, density and population viability. The study will use “non-invasive monitoring,” not carcasses from trap-kills! The DOW has provided no evidence that any research proposal in the state requires carcasses beyond those obtained from road kill and “incidental” trapping (96 in 2017 alone). The DOW’s claim that the kill plan is science-based appears to be a smokescreen to win public approval. Does the DOW think Ohioans are so stupid as to not see how ludicrous it would be to kill animals to estimate population of a recently delisted species whose population size and viability are unknown and possibly precarious?!
There may be fewer than 500 bobcats in Ohio. Allowing for trap-killing of 40 in one critical region and 20 in a region where the population is not reproductively viable, with potentially many more than 60 to be killed before authorities can halt the killing, is an irresponsible and ill-founded gamble with a species still recovering from extirpation, poorly understood, and perhaps already compromised by road kill and “incidental” and illegal trapping. The DOW’s own (highly flawed) new Bobcat Management Plan cites research that says mortality rates of over 20 percent can threaten population viability. That level may have been reached by the 96 known bobcat deaths in 2017 from vehicles and “incidental” trapping. Bobcats do not overpopulate. Like all wild cats, their populations are self- regulating, and unlike rabbits, bobcats cannot take advantage of lowered population to repopulate quickly. Bobcats take two years to mature, generally have only two to three kittens a year, and may only live five to six years in the wild.
With a $5 fee, thousands of traps may be set on opening day. If even a fraction of these catch a bobcat, the quota could be surpassed many times over before the DOW is notified of kills (even with an online system) and can halt trapping, which requires effectively notifying every trapper and every trapper getting in his or her traps. And how many other animals, including pets, will be caught in these traps, which hurt and mangle animals, who suffer in their jaws until killed (or rescued)?
The DOW’s mission is to manage bobcats for all Ohioans, not just for hunters and trappers, whose consumptive use will deprive the vast majority of Ohioans their rightful non-consumptive enjoyment and dependence on our top native predator. This is a PUBLIC HEALTH issue. As Lyme disease spreads in Ohio, it is imperative that we protect the major native predator of white-footed mice, a primary vector of Lyme disease.
Our speaking out led to the comment period being extended and the public hearing and votes postponed by a few weeks. Please comment by March 31 at wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/stay-informed/proposed-rule-changes-csi-review/ and write or call the Governor (614-466-3555) to oppose this irresponsible proposal. Visit Save Ohio Bobcats Open Group facebook page for other links and information. Please spread the word throughout Ohio. Only a massive outcry will defeat this dangerous, greedy, and ill-considered plan.
Editor’s note: Heather Cantino of Athens is an environmental educator, some of whose previous work has been funded by the U.S. EPA, Ohio EPA, and OSU Extension Environmental Education grants.