The state's proposed five-year bobcat management plan has drawn more than 1,600 comments, with many of them not only criticizing the plan, but also bobcat hunting and trapping in general.
The plan was put together by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which released the document in January. The public was then asked to submit comments until Feb. 16.
The DEC has a target date of mid- to late-May to finish the plan, DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino told the Enterprise. After that, some of the hunting and trapping regulatory changes could be implemented this summer.
Bobcats can weigh more than 30 pounds and are generally twice as large as a common house cat. The state Department of Environmental Conservation
bobcat management plan estimates there are about 5,000 bobcats in New York.
(Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife)
But before the DEC gets to that point, it will have to weigh the large pile of comments submitted.
While there were some comments submitted by hunters and trappers, many of the letters were sent by people who simply were against bobcat hunting and trapping.
Letters came in from all over the state, nation and world, for that matter.
"The bobcat is an important member of our natural community and should not be killed for sport or for their fur," wrote Dorota WiAniewska of Poland. "Killing any animal for fur is barbaric. I am shocked that leg-hold traps are allowed in USA. I live in Poland and in my country it is considered poaching and has been such for more than half a century. A normal, sane person would have never made it permissible. Trapping animals is a disgrace. There is no excuse for trapping and hunting bobcats for sport or their fur."
The plan states that "observations by hunters and trappers, and reports from the general public suggest that bobcat populations are increasing and expanding throughout New York State outside of their historic core range in the Taconic, Catskill and Adirondack mountains and into central and western New York."
Some of those bobcats are coming into New York from Pennsylvania, according to the plan, which says the animal's population is increasing throughout the U.S. The bobcat range is from southern Canada to northern Mexico. Bobcats are found throughout most of New York, except for Long Island.
The plan states there are about 5,000 bobcats in the state and that recommended harvest rates should be less than 20 percent of the fall population. Based on those numbers, the plan says that the population could sustain a total harvest of about 1,000 animals annually.
The stated objectives of the plan are to maintain viable population levels and monitor trends in the the bobcat distribution, provide for "sustainable use and enjoyment of the bobcat for the public" and to minimize negative bobcat-human interactions.
There is one major proposed change to bobcat management in the Adirondacks. The trapping season is now from Oct. 25 to Dec. 25. The plan proposes to extend that season until Feb. 15. The change would make the trapping season the same as the current hunting season.
The Adirondacks has "had a history of much shorter bobcat trapping seasons nested within a more liberal hunting season," the plan states. "These shorter trapping seasons provided protection to a growing fisher population. Fisher populations have expanded throughout the northern zone and have been harvested in a sustainable manner for several decades."
The DEC doesn't anticipate the trapping season change would impact the bobcat harvest much.
"Due to the limited trapping effort evidenced in the recent Trapper Mail Survey, we do not anticipate a significant increase in overall bobcat harvests from the addition of two months of trapping effort," the plan states.
There are no bag limits on bobcats for hunters or trappers.
The New York State Trappers Association, which provided the DEC input on putting the plan together, praised the plan. It supported the expansion of the trapping season in the Adirondacks and newly proposed plan to harvest bobcats in the Southern Tier, which runs just south of the Adirondacks and along the New York and Pennsylvania border.
"We feel that the Department of Environmental Conservation Fur Bearer team has based this proposal on sound scientific data," wrote David Miller, executive director for the NYSTA. "The plan calls for a limited harvest in the expanded harvest area, continued collection of data, and thoughtful monitoring of further expansion of bobcats in N.Y.: all sound management practices."
The trapping association also supported the proposal to allow trappers to use cable restraints to replace leghold traps.
"Trappers may find it difficult to capture bobcat using foothold traps if the short term increasing storm intensity prediction is realized and deeper snows result," the plan states. "Trapping in deep snow and winter conditions with foothold traps is challenging and has a low rate of success. To continue to provide reasonable opportunity for trappers to target bobcat, new tools that are easier to use in deep snows, such as modern cable restraints, may become necessary."
One of those who opposed at least part of the plan was James Curatolo of Burdett. Curatolo said he is a biologist who worked for 16 years in Alaska on the caribou and grizzly bear population ecology.
"I used to trap there for recreation, primarily lynx," he wrote. "I strongly disagree with the premise that bobcats on the Southern Tier can sustain a trapping and hunting season. Cats are exceptionally easy to trap and with the easily accessible forested landscape in the Southern Tier, it is likely that a significant portion, well beyond a 20 percent take, that has been estimated for bobcat sustainability.
"In the interior of Alaska where I lived, lynx were greatly reduced by trapping, even during extremely high populations. I spend at least 40 to 50 days hunting in Schuyler County and have never observed a bobcat. I would love to see one ... I am sure many people would. Is this really necessary? No doubt after the first two years the population will be greatly reduced. I ask you to reconsider and review your criteria and err on the side of caution."
Many of the prominent Adirondack environmental organizations weighed in on the issue.
"While our organization understands the importance of New York's hunting tradition, we would hope that any recommendation by the department to extend an open hunting season period or geographic area be accompanied by a scientific analysis documenting a need for population reduction," wrote Joelle Foskett, public lands advocate for the Adirondack Mountain Club.
Foskett said ADK is concerned that the plan is missing a population trend analysis that "should be an integral part of making the case for extending the length and expanding the geographic area of the opening hunting and trapping season."
She goes on to say that "while DEC asserts that it is cost effective to estimate population based on observation by hunters, trappers and the public, this method is completely inadequate to make the case for an extended season. If DEC lacks the resources to perform such a science based population analysis, we would recommend that the open season for hunting remains consistent with previous years."
Foskett also expressed concern that there aren't enough controls to ensure that female bobcats aren't over-harvested.
"A longer season and a larger geographic area for hunting and trapping could have a devastating impact on the future stability of this population if there were a significant increase in the number of female bobcats harvested."
Some letter writers thought the ecosystem would benefit by a high bobcat population because it's a predator. Larger populations of bobcats could help keep numbers of deer down in places like the Hudson Valley, where there is a problem with an overabundance of the animal. Having too many deer is considered problematic there, in part because they carry the tick that carries Lyme Disease.
Walt Linck of Saranac Lake wrote that the bobcat hunting and trapping seasons should be decreased and not increased because bobcats are needed to control feral pig populations.
"I think one of the greatest concerns DEC wildlife staff should have at this time is the expansion into our state of the feral pig," Linck wrote. "There can be no certainty about the full extent of the feral pig population growth we will experience throughout New York in the near future, or the extent of the ecological, agricultural and horticultural damage that will be caused by the presence of this new, aggressive species in the ecology of our rural and wild landscapes, but damage there will be. Since there is certainty that bobcats prey on feral pigs, it is clearly the wrong time to open, for the first time in modern times, a hunting and trapping season for bobcats in large areas of New York where feral pigs are likely to soon be causing such damage."
Many of the commenters simply were against trapping, in general, and think the practice shouldn't be allowed at all anymore. One of those was Canton resident Ed Petty, son of the late conservationist Clarence Petty, who trapped in his younger days. He stated that trapping stopped in many European countries long ago.
"It is all about the money and (they) could not care if animals suffer in traps," Petty wrote. "There is no reason bobcats (need to be) used for fur or a trophy in some dusty camp."