Illinois proposal would allow hunters or trappers one bobcat

Springfield — New legislation waiting to be moved in the House proposes a bobcat season that would run from Nov. 1 through Feb. 15.

House Bill 4226 is a rather conservative push toward legalizing the hunting and trapping of bobcats, placing a “one bobcat per person per season” limit.

Filed by state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, on Jan. 16, the bill was sent to Rules the following day. It has since picked up support by state Rep. Wayne Rosenthal, R-Litchfield, and state Rep. Jerry Costello III, D-Red Bud, as chief co-sponsors.

Phelps, who is from deep southern Illinois, where the state’s largest population of bobcats resides, has been pushing for a bobcat trapping season for the past six years. Research by Southern Illinois University and monitoring by DNR have indicated that conditions are finally getting right to implement some kind of hunting or trapping season – or both.

As with the river otter trapping legislation that was finally signed into law two years ago, the latest bobcat proposal includes stringent licensing and tagging requirements.

HB 4226 states that “the pelts of bobcats shall be tagged in accordance with federal regulations and the Department of Natural Resources may require harvest registration and set forth procedures, fees for registration, and the process of tagging pelts in administrative rules.”

Translated, that stipulation likely means bobcat trappers and hunters would have to follow specific tagging procedures.

For hunters, the bill specifies that “bobcats may be taken during the open season by use of a small light which is worn on the body or hand-held by a person on foot and not in any vehicle.”

Rosenthal told reporters that the time has come to reduce bobcat numbers.

“There are just more and more of them out there, as is evident by reports from deer hunters and farmers,” he said. “We just want to control them in a manner that will not harm the established population.”

While deer hunters tend to discount bobcats as a cause for the decline in the state’s deer population, there is evidence that bobcats, which grow to an average of 20 pounds, have affected small game in Illinois.

Phelps said he believes the population of bobcats in Illinois needs to be reduced because of what they are doing to other animals, specifically game birds.

“I feel this [bobcat resurgence] has hurt our quail population, and it has hurt other birds,” Phelps said.

An SIU study of bobcat diets in Illinois revealed tha birds make up 10 percent of the cat’s prey, but most of those are songbirds – not quail and pheasants.

The National Trappers Association has stated that rabbits make up 75-90 percent of a bobcat’s diet, but the SIU study indicated that the breakdown of prey has rabbits at only 22 percent.

Small rodents, like field mice, make up 32 percent of the diet, the study noted. Squirrels made up another large portion at just under 20 percent.

Bobcats were put on the state’s threatened species list in 1977. After an effort to nurture and grow the species through the 1980s and 1990s, it was removed from the list in 1999.

Hunting bobcats in Illinois was made illegal in 1972.

The proposed limit of one bobcat is seen as a very conservative approach to a new season. But numbers indicate that limiting the taking of the cats is a wise step.

Neighboring Wisconsin has in place similar strict limits on the taking of bobcats. In 2012, Wisconsin set the bobcat hunt limit at 175. According to Wisconsin DNR, about 11,400 hunters applied for the opportunity to take one of the 175.

Illinois residents look forward to the opportunity, even though many haven’t had any sort of trouble with bobcats.

In fact, most only see bobcats when the animal appears on one of their trail cameras.

“They haven’t been any problem,” Wally Hadler, of Randolph County, said. “We see a lot of younger bobcats, so the population is growing. I don’t think bobcats are bothering the deer.”

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