Expanded bobcat zones go to public hearing

Baraboo, Wis., — Bobcat hunters and trappers may get an opportunity to move south of Hwy. 64 for the first time in recent history, following a Natural Resources Board decision made at the board’s Aug. 14 meeting in Baraboo.

NRB members authorized the DNR to conduct public hearings regarding bobcat hunting and trapping as early as October of this year. Officials expect to conduct at least three such hearings at venues as yet to be determined.

According to the DNR, demand for the opportunity to harvest a bobcat has far outpaced the availability of permits. The DNR typically receives more than 12,000 applications each year, but usually has fewer than 500 permits available. Of the available permits, tribal entities may claim up to 50 percent within the ceded territories, which includes all of the land mass north of Hwy. 64.

DNR statistics show the tribes have greatly expanded their furbearer-harvest activities in the past few years. As recently as 2009, the state’s six Chippewa tribes reported a bobcat harvest of 24 animals. In 2012, that reported tribal harvest increased to 87, of which one tribal member registered 40 or more bobcats, according to John Olson, DNR furbearer specialist in Ashland.

“This harvest occurred mostly in portions of southern Douglas and northern Washburn counties adjacent to a large bobcat population in Minnesota,” Olson said.

“Bobcat hides are some of the more valuable hides in Wisconsin,” said Edgar Harvey, chairman of the Conservation Congress Fur Harvest Committee. Harvey suggested, however, that while some pelts are sold, many end up in taxidermist shops.

Harvey welcomes the possibility of expanding bobcat-hunting and trapping opportunities statewide.

“The big concern (among hunters and trappers) was dissatisfaction with last year’s permit levels,” Harvey said. “The department was concerned that the numbers were down, and dropped the quota north of Hwy. 64.”

The DNR will bring two “zone options” to the public hearings. One option would have two zones (north and south) and the other option would have four zones.

“The two-zone option would be best,” Harvey said. The smaller size of the zone makes it more difficult to estimate bobcat populations, he suggests. “The two-zone option would provide more reliable numbers.”

The DNR’s first alternative is the four-zone option that would establish three new zones south of the existing zone. The second alternative would have two zones; one new zone would be created by having the current Hwy. 64 boundary serve as the dividing line between the north and south zones.

The four-zone option allows for a central zone south of Hwy. 64, a southeast zone which follows a line southward from the Michigan border to the Illinois state line. The southwest zone is bounded by Interstate 90/94 and Hwy. 78.

The DNR Furbearer Advisory Committee recommended the four-zone option, but stopped short of supporting a harvest in the southwest and southeast zones at this time. The DNR would work toward opening a limited season in the new central zone – if adopted following the public hearings – with a quota for 2014 set at 10 percent of the estimated bobcat population in the central zone.

Olson referred to the public response to a DNR advisory question at this year’s fish and game hearings in April as the catalyst for going forward with expanded bobcat hunting and trapping.

Question No. 64 asked if citizens would support a new zone or otherwise expand the area where hunting and trapping of bobcats is currently allowed. The proposal passed in  67 counties. A slightly different question on the Conservation Congress side of the spring hearing questionnaire passed by a similar margin.

DNR officials say that determining a harvest quota south Hwy 64 will be a challenge.

“First, and of critical importance, we have to determine the amount of suitable habitat in any new zone proposal,” Olson said. “(Then) we can use research information to estimate the bobcat population in the new zone. Recent research suggests that within the study area of central Wisconsin we have good confidence of a population of approximately 350 bobcats,” he said.

According to the DNR’s proposal submitted to the NRB, the agency is not required to allow bobcat hunting and trapping in new areas until harvest quota and issuance of permits are confirmed. The population goal for bobcats north of Hwy. 64 is currently established in administrative rule, NRB members were told. While not proposing to establish a goal in new zones south of Hwy. 64 at this time, the DNR claims to have adequate information on bobcat populations in central Wisconsin and anticipates offering a 2014 quota recommendation.

The proposal has the effect of catching Wisconsin up with bobcat harvests in adjoining states, Olson said. Michigan hunters and trappers may harvest two cats per season, while Minnesota sportsmen enjoy a season limit of five cats.

“This is an exciting time in the history of wildlife management in Wisconsin,” he said. “Through good science, thoughtful and respectful input from citizens, and responsible, regulated actions, we have witnessed growth in many wildlife populations and an increase in reasonable harvest.”

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