The highly controversial bobcat hunting and trapping season was approved by the Fish and Game commission on Feb. 17 in a split vote of 5-4.
“Sometimes, the heat of battle gets the better of folks,” said Dr. John Litvaitis, professor of wildlife ecology at UNH and lead researcher in the bobcat project. “There was a lot of confused information out there.”
Fifty permits will be issued by lottery to residents of New Hampshire for hunting and trapping of the bobcat. Hounding and baiting will be allowed under restriction.
There was a huge public outcry against the season. An online petition entitled “Save the Bobcat in NH” gained the support of 74,088 people as of Feb. 21. Close to 2,000 of the signatures came from New Hampshire residents.
Emotions are still running high, but some of the facts seem to have been skewed.
Litvaitis said that a number of people suggested trappers funded the study, and that it was known from the start that the research was going to be the explanation for opening the season.
However, these claims are not true.
“It was a mission to understand what bobcats were about … after close to 30 years of protection,” said Litvaitis.
The claim that trappers funded the study is also false. There are federal funds allocated to states for wildlife restoration that come from a tax on guns and bullets. The amount of money allocated to each state is dependent on how many guns and bullets are bought in that state.
According to Litvaitis, there was a spike in the purchase of guns and bullets in New Hampshire during the Obama administration, and as a result New Hampshire received a fairly substantial increase in funds for wildlife restoration.
This is where funding for the bobcat research originated.
Many in favor of the season cited that the carcasses of the hunted animals had to be turned over to Fish and Game for research. These supporters then argued that the season would help expand knowledge of the species.
“The information from these carcasses would be as current and representative as we could possibly be of the population,” said David Patch, a member of the Fish and Game Commission who voted in favor of the season. “We will know exactly the health of that present population.”
“Fifty bobcats is not really going to tell you much of anything,” said Litvaitis. “In the context that 50 animals is close to what get hit by cars, and they aren’t going to give us new-found information that we aren’t going to get from incidental captures.”
According to the research that UNH has been doing, in conjunction with Fish and Game, the taking of 50 bobcats this coming year will have no effect on the population.
There is also no biological need to hunt the bobcats. The animals would be taken mainly for the sport of hunting, and the market value of their fur.
The controversy then boils down to if this is reason enough for the animal to be hunted.
“It just doesn’t make any sense,” said James Ryan, a member of the Fish and Game Commission who voted against the season.
He referred to it as “needless killing,” saying that he didn’t believe in “killing those animals just for the sake of taking their skin off.”
David Patch cited Fish and Game’s responsibility as an organization to make the opportunity to hunt a game species – as long as the species can handle it – available to New Hampshire’s sportsmen and sportswomen.