Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Bobcat summit yields a new season proposal

Stevens Point, Wis. – Frustration hung thick in Ed Harvey’s
voice. Like everyone in attendance at a public meeting about bobcat
management Nov. 14, the president of the Wisconsin Conservation
Congress was hoping to break a stalemate.

“Anytime this question (Question 57 from the 2008 spring
hearings to expand bobcat hunting and trapping opportunities) or a
similar question is put on the hearings, it’s going to pass by a
large margin,” Harvey said. “But the DNR continues to reject it. It
makes no sense for us to keep repeating this cycle. Exactly what’s
going to be workable?”

Question 57 proposed to modify the season length to extend to
Jan. 31, open the entire state to bobcat hunting and trapping using
the six zones in place for fisher trapping, establish quotas for
each zone, require a 48-hour reporting system, and add a $15
harvest permit fee. The measure passed 2,521 to 1,933, but was
soundly defeated by the DNR in committee by a 16-1 count, with
Harvey casting the only supporting vote.

Wisconsin has an estimated 2,800 bobcats, although that number
is in question because the current season structure only allows
harvest north of Hwy. 64, so the population in the southern
two-thirds of the state is not well-documented. Bobcats appear to
be expanding their range to Wisconsin’s Central Forest Region, and
sightings have increased in counties immediately south of Hwy. 64,
especially in the east.

While the state’s cat population is healthy, more people than
ever want to hunt and trap them, which poses a management
challenge, explained John Olson, DNR furbearer biologist. Permit
applicants rose to 12,684 for 2008, an increase of more than 1,000
from 2007. The DNR issued just 540 harvest permits.

“People are getting a permit about every fifth year,” Olson
said. “That will change if the number of applicants continues to
increase. A lot of people have an interest in cats now that didn’t
have an interest in them 15 years ago.”

Acknowledging the increased attention on bobcats, DNR leaders
called the special meeting. Using each component of the WCC hearing
Question 57 as a basis, DNR Wildlife Section Leader Bill Vander
Zouwen led a group of various stakeholders through a discussion to
reach a compromise aimed at maintaining a healthy bobcat population
while affording maximum hunting and trapping opportunity.

Hound hunters have repeatedly asked to extend the season into
January, when snow is much more likely to provide ideal tracking
conditions. The current season closes Dec. 31. In some years,
snowfall arrives late to the Northwoods, Harvey pointed out. Hound
hunters can’t operate well without snow, and depending on the
weather, might only have a few days of good conditions.

However, given ideal conditions, hound hunters can kill dozens
of bobcats in just a few days. As a result, adding days in January
likely would increase success rates, so permit numbers would have
to be reduced, Olson said.

Most of the harvest by hound hunters occurs in late December
under the current framework. Extending the season into January
would spread out the pressure and ensure better conditions for
hound hunters, Harvey said.

Question 57 also proposed to open bobcat hunting and trapping
statewide using the six fisher zones. Although the bobcat
population appears to be expanding, opening a harvest season
requires solid science that shows those areas can sustain a
harvest, Olson said.

Leslie Adams, a graduate assistant at UW-Stevens Point, is
studying habitat suitability and making a bobcat population model
for Wisconsin. She presented her preliminary research to the
group.

“The habitat is there, but whether bobcats are filling that
habitat is up for debate,” she said about areas south of Hwy. 64.
“Ideally, we would sample southern bobcats to figure out what
habitat they like.”

Olson is encouraged by Adams’s research, as well as a genetic
study by University of Iowa researcher Dawn Redding, who collected
tissue samples from 200 Wisconsin bobcats in 2007. These studies
could form the basis for expanding the harvest zone in the future,
Olson said, but cautioned that a statewide season is unlikely.

“We’re kinda on the edge of public support for killing bobcats
in Wisconsin,” he said. “There’s a fairly good chance we would be
challenged if we make changes. We need good science to support
opening new areas.”

“If opening it statewide kills the deal, how far can we go?”
Harvey asked. “Can we go south to Hwy. 10? Can we get the
research?”

Others suggested opening the Central Forest Region as an
experimental zone, with a small quota, such as five or 10
bobcats.

George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife
Federation, suggested that a way to expand the data on bobcat
populations is to allow very limited harvest in a few “postage
stamp” areas south of Hwy. 64 where bobcats are known to live.

Shrinking harvest permit numbers also were a point of
contention. As success rates improve, the DNR drops the number of
permits so the kill doesn’t exceed the harvest quota.

“In the 1980s, success was 5 percent,” Olson said. “Last year,
it was above 40 percent. We used to issue 20 tags to kill one
bobcat; now it’s two-and-a-half tags to kill one bobcat.”

In 2007, hunters and trappers took 477 bobcats, the
second-highest total since 1980. The record of 497 occurred in
2005.

Some people at the meeting suggested that all applicants receive
a harvest permit, and once the quota was met, the season would be
closed. However, such a system would create a mad scramble to kill
a bobcat and favor trappers, who tend to harvest bobcats early in
the season before the ground freezes.

For the season to expand in length and area, the DNR needs to
continue to regulate permit numbers, Olson said. However, a
reporting system could allow more opportunity. Question 57 called
for a 48-hour mandatory call-in of all bobcat kills.

The question also proposed a $15 harvest fee. An extra fee is
required to implement a reporting system, as well as to pay for
additional research to justify opening new zones.

Nearly three hours into the 41/2-hour meeting, Scott McAuley,
president of the Wisconsin Trappers Association, suggested the
season be split into three time periods and two zones – one being
the current zone north of Hwy. 64, with the other an experimental
new zone.

“I think Scott is onto something here,” Olson said. “By
splitting into time zones, it does address equity and protect the
resource.”

Olson refined McAuley’s idea, reducing it to two periods. After
more debate about each point in the proposal, the group agreed to
forward the following season recommendation to the DNR Rules
Committee: The bobcat season would run from the Saturday closest to
Oct. 20 to Jan. 31, with two time periods. The first is the October
opener to Dec. 25, with the second Dec. 26 through Jan. 31. A new
zone encompassing the area south of Hwy. 64, north of Hwy. 10 and
east of Hwy. 51 would be created. Anyone killing a bobcat would be
required to call in the kill within 24 hours. The DNR would close
the season with 48 hours notice upon reaching the quota in a zone
or time period. The application fee, currently $3, would increase
to $5 to offset costs of the call-in system, as well as to fund
research on bobcats. The new season framework wouldn’t take effect
until 2012.

All parties – which included representatives from the Wisconsin
Bear Hunters and Voigt Intertribal Task Force, as well as all
previously mentioned groups – seemed relieved to make progress
toward an expanded bobcat season.

“This is what I’ll present,” Vander Zouwen said to conclude the
marathon session. “It seems like we can all live with this
compromise.”

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