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Emotions Run High as Fish and Game Considers Bobcat Trapping

NH Fish and Game
Adult male bobcat in Bow, NH; photo courtesy of Diane Lowe

Should New Hampshire sportsman be allowed to hunt and trap bobcats?

Since the idea of a season on bobcats was first put on the table more than a year ago, that question has stirred up strong emotions, and those emotions came to a head Monday night.

The proposal Fish and Game is weighing would let New Hampshire hunters and trappers kill 50 bobcats a year. There are more than 600 such trappers, and permits would be given out using a lottery, at $100 a pop.

“[The hunt] was closed a time back when numbers were deemed to be too few,” Ted Tichy, Chair of the Fish and Game commission summed it up at the start of the hearing, “and now we’ve done some studies and the numbers have come up and so we’re listening to a proposal to reopen the season.”

Fish and Game believes there around 1,400 bobcats in the state, and the population is growing by maybe 150 a year. They think killing 50 cats a year is a small enough number that the population can still grow.

But this proposal has become incredibly controversial: the public hearing on the proposal was moved to the New Hampshire Statehouse – where there are 400 seats – and the crowd overflowed into the gallery.

And when Bill Carney of Bow, stood up and said bobcats “should be managed with the same accepted wildlife management principles and programs as New Hampshire’s other wild-life resources, and not be managed with teary-eyed emotion and not some conjured-up Ouija-board wildlife management scheme,” the crowd erupted in jeers and boos.

Of those in the audience who signed up to testify 46 were in favor of trapping, and 306 were opposed.

“A Guesstimate”

The proponents say the season is a science-based management scheme… but the science is not iron-clad.

“So it’s a  rather not very rigorous estimate,” explained John Litvaitus in an interview outside the hearing room. Litvaitus is the UNH biologist who oversaw the (“now infamous”) studies that the season would be based on.

He says cats are very secretive, and hard to count, so the number they came up with is based on a lot of assumptions. “Our estimate is simply… a guesstimate,” he said.

The trappers respond that they would provide Fish and Game with data from the hunt: How many traps does it take them to catch the cats they find? How old was each animal?

“How do you make an estimate more accurate, you get more data,” testified Mike Morrison, one the trappers who helped carry out the UNH study, “I support this because I support the bobcats.”

“Emotions” and “Heritage”

As a source of revenue, opening a season on bobcats is not a real winner.

The Fish and Game Department says they could earn maybe $5,000 dollars from the season, but it would cost as much as $20,000 to administer. And while trappers sell furs at auction, Fish and Game data estimate that all but the most prolific trappers are probably only making a few hundred dollars a year.

The trappers say this is about recreation and history.

“A lot of this feeling is emotional,” said Dan Dockham of Gilford, “It’s simple, if you don’t want to hunt them or trap them, don’t. But don’t stop those of us who enjoy this past-time, and our heritage,”

Many opponents object to the methods used to hunt bobcats, steel-jawed traps, and using dogs to chase them up trees where they can be shot. Others, simply argued bobcats don’t cause harm, or really need human management.

“As a conservation biologist I can state that there is no biological reason to hunt the bobcat, or any other predator, predators regulate themselves,” argued Chris Schadler, with Project Coyote.

And a major theme from the opponents, was that by ignoring the popular will, Fish and Game was giving themselves – and hunters in general – a black-eye. And some of the testimony indicated there may be some backlash.

“What you have to do is post your lands to all hunting, if you post your lands to all hunting, they can’t hunt bobcats,” thundered Tom Angeloro, who owns a farm in Roxbury.

He points out over 10,000 people signed a petition against the bobcat hunt, which could equal a lot of angry landowners, putting up posted signs, “and then you won’t be able to hunt for anything… so stop hunting for cats,” he demanded.

The final hearing on the bobcat hunt will be held in Lancaster tonight. After that, it’ll be up to the Fish and Game commission to decide what to do with what they’ve heard.

Sam Evans-Brown has been working for New Hampshire Public Radio since 2010, when he began as a freelancer. He shifted gears in 2016 and began producing Outside/In, a podcast and radio show about “the natural world and how we use it.” His work has won him several awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow awards, one national Murrow, and the Overseas Press Club of America's award for best environmental reporting in any medium. He studied Politics and Spanish at Bates College, and before reporting was variously employed as a Spanish teacher, farmer, bicycle mechanic, ski coach, research assistant, a wilderness trip leader and a technical supporter.
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