Proposal: Expand bobcat hunting, trapping in L.P.

Roscommon, Mich. — Wildlife managers have proposed several changes to furbearer regulations for the 2013-14 regulation cycle, including a significant expansion for bobcat hunting and trapping in the northern Lower Peninsula.

DNR officials proposed two new Bobcat Management Units for the northern Lower at the Natural Resources Commission meeting in Roscommon earlier this month. BMU E would include Leelanau, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Manistee, Mason, and Lake counties. BMU F would include Oceana, Newaygo, Mecosta, Isabella, Midland, and parts of Bay and Arenac counties.

Proposed season lengths for both units would run 11 days, from Dec. 10-20 for using foothold traps on public or private land, and from Jan. 1-11 for hunting on public or private lands.

The seasons coincide with bobcat hunting and trapping seasons already open on private land elsewhere in the northern Lower, so the change would greatly expand the area available to harvest bobcats but wouldn’t extend the seasons.

Adam Bump, DNR furbearer program leader, said sportsmen requested the increased opportunity for bobcats during the last regulation cycle and DNR officials conducted scent surveys in the fall of 2011 and 2012 to determine if the population could sustain a harvest.

“Results of the survey showed that bobcat populations (based on occupancy in preferred habitats) were increasing in the proposed areas and were now similar to the occupancy rates seen in a portion of BMU D (currently open for the take of bobcats) in the early 2000s,” according to the NRC proposal. “Based on this information, it is likely that bobcats can sustain some harvest in the proposed areas.”

Bump said officials “wanted to be conservative … so we didn’t want to recommend any changes that would expand the ways you can take a bobcat,” despite requests to allow hunters to take bobcats at night with dogs.

“We brought forward a recommendation that I think … is biologically very sound,” Bump said.

John Caretti, president of the Michigan Trappers and Predator Callers Association, said the group is generally supportive of the proposed changes, and the expanded bobcat harvest “that’s been a long time coming.”

The MTPCA would have preferred, however, to allow hunting and trapping of bobcats on public lands in areas already established. Under the NRC proposal, only the expanded areas would be open on public property, he said.

“It seems strange they’re opening it up in these new areas, but don’t allow it in the more established areas,” Caretti said. “We’re pretty disappointed about that.”

Bump said officials plan to monitor bobcat numbers and could revisit the issue in the next two-year regulation cycle. The DNR’s biggest concern is “we don’t want to see the bobcat population decline in the northern Lower,” Bump said.

Other proposed furbearer regulation changes include recommendations to allow hunters to take coyotes at night with dogs, and to allow the use of lights to take nuisance raccoons at night.

Bump and Caretti said some houndsmen already train on  coyotes at night, and it’s essentially the same practice as taking foxes at night, which is already legal.

DNR officials also recommended against changes requested by some hunters and trappers. Some trappers would like the ability to set traps inside muskrat push-ups – small structures constructed by the animals to feed – which is currently prohibited.

DNR officials recommended against the move because the trapping community is divided on the issue, it would be difficult to enforce, and high prices for furs combined with the change could significantly increase harvest.

The DNR also advised against a request by hunters to allow the use of No. 3 and 4 buckshot for nighttime coyote hunting after DNR law enforcement officials discouraged the change, Bump said.

“The primary concern is poaching,” he said. “These are rounds that could be used to take other species, like deer.”

Caretti said the request to use buckshot is “mostly to have women and young hunters able to hunt coyotes at night.

“There really isn’t an effective load for 20-gauge … that’s not buckshot,” he said. “For the most part, we’re really happy with what the DNR is proposing, but we continue to have disagreement on the buckshot issue.”

The NRC could act on the proposed changes next month.

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