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Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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Bobcat bill advances with special budgetary side notes

Springfield — As expected, the House version of the “Bobcat Bill” passed April 17, setting the stage for what hunters and trappers hope is a quick run through the Senate.

Interestingly, as a sign of the times in financially-struggling Illinois, House Bill 0352 was amended in the days before being called for a vote in order to add “Balanced Budget” and “Fiscal” notes to the measure.

The Balanced Budget note indicated that the bill “will have a minimal fiscal impact on the Wildlife and Fish Fund.” The Fiscal note stated that the fiscal impact of HB 0352 will be “$2,500 of new revenue deposited into the Fish and Wildlife Fund.”

That $2,500 number is the result of simple math. The amendment requiring a bobcat permit called for a permit fee “not to exceed $5.” DNR plans to sell about 500 bobcat permits the first year.

A previous amendment added language to require the special bobcat permit.

HB 0352 passed by a 62-43 vote and arrived in the Senate on April 21.

Other than the House amendments, the bill is nearly identical to legislation last year that was sponsored by former representative and current DNR director Wayne Rosenthal in 2014. That bill passed both chambers before being vetoed by Gov. Pat Quinn. It would allow DNR to offer a bobcat season from Nov. 1 to Feb. 15, with a limit of one bobcat per season.

Rep. Patrick Verschoore, D-Milan, introduced the newer version of the bill. He told reporters the relatively close vote on the measure was a surprise because the 2014 version garnered overwhelming support.

The narrow vote could be the result of  a swell of critics voicing opposition to a bobcat season.

“I think the environmentalists and Sierra Club worked it really hard,” Verschoore told the State Journal-Register. “But everyone thinks they’re really cute and all that, but they’re not real nice animals and in some areas have wiped out the quail and pheasant populations.”

Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, a major supporter of previous bobcat bills, went a step further, noting that an uncontrolled bobcat population could result in the coyote situation many rural and urban residents are dealing with today.

“Bobcats are cold-blooded killers,” Phelps told reporters. “They’ll eat your dogs. They’ll eat your cats.”

In a study of bobcats in the state, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale revealed that “rodents and small mammals” make up most of the  bobcat diet. However, bobcats have been known to eat young deer and even livestock.

For hunters, trappers and those in the fur industry, a bobcat season would not have much of an impact on their annual pursuits. Freeport’s John Wilson, who travels the state as a fur agent for North American Fur Auctions, said a bobcat season would create some buzz, but the one-bobcat limit and the relatively small number of permits will not be a game-changer.

“A lot of the guys I talk to in the state like the idea of a bobcat season, because they are certainly out there,” Wilson said. “Most people in the state don’t believe bobcats are out there because they don’t see bobcats or signs. But trappers and hunters are the people who see the evidence.”

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