Scientists, many citizens oppose Ohio DNR proposal for bobcat trap-kill season


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COLUMBUS—Less than four years after bobcats were removed from Ohio’s Endangered and Threatened Species list, the state’s Division of Wildlife (DOW) has proposed adding the species to Ohio’s list of animals that can be trapped and killed for their fur.

On Feb. 8, DOW proposed rule changes, including a bobcat trap-kill season beginning in November. DOW has failed to provide any data or analysis to justify such an action, according to a press release from Save Ohio’s Bobcats II.

“Ohio’s Division of Wildlife has not produced any solid, science-based rationale for their proposal to kill our state’s bobcats in traps and snares,” said Sarah Macleod, founder of Save Ohio’s Bobcats II, a group of concerned biologists, citizens, and conservation groups who have come together in defense of the state’s only native wild cat. “We urge the agency to reject this ill-advised plan.”

DOW is required by law to “plan, develop, and institute programs and policies based on the best available information.” Yet its own recently released “Bobcat Management Plan” states the population is “unknown.” DOW also issued an internal report by Mike Reynolds in October 2017 for a four-year plan to assess population and conduct a viability analysis to determine what, if any, level of trapping the population could sustain without threat to its viability, according to the press release.

The report states, “The rate of expansion and the area currently occupied by bobcats, as well as population size are still unknown,” and the population’s “viability is unclear.” Further, “Little is known about the density and distribution of bobcats in Ohio, as well as the population trajectory, and which areas act as source populations. Such information is critical before decisions are taken on opening a trapping season and the maximum yearly take.” Outlining a plan based solely on non-lethal monitoring, the report indicates it will take four years to collect and analyze data to establish a population viability analysis. (Report at saveohiosbobcats.com)

Along with its own research, DOW committed $245,000 in October 2017 to a four-year Ohio University population-modeling project “to develop a population model to understand the viability of Ohio’s recovering bobcat population and inform bobcat management and conservation.” The project makes use of purely non-lethal means to collect bobcat DNA and photos to predict how the population grows and changes. (ohio-forum.com/2018/02/popescu-lab-takes-4-year-study-bobcats-returning-home-ohio/) With the research having just started, it is clear there is no data to support a bobcat-killing season anytime soon, according to the press release.

Many have challenged the validity of “verified” sightings being presented by DOW. “These sightings could easily be multiple images of a limited number of animals, and the number may be falsely inflated by DOW’s active solicitation of sightings last November,” explained Heather Cantino. “Were images attributed to the year in which they were actually taken? DOW has not provided data so anyone can know. DOW itself has stated that verified sightings are not a population estimate and warns that any increase may be explained by the recent surge in trail cams.”

The Division’s plans to sell an unlimited number of permits for $5/bobcat alarms scientists who predict that many more than the legal quota of 60 bobcats will be trapped and killed before the season can be stopped, according to the press release.

Cantino explained, “With a $5 fee, thousands of traps may be set on opening day. If even a fraction catch a bobcat, the quota could be surpassed many times over before DOW is notified and then effectively notifies every trapper and every trapper pulls all remaining traps.”

Although DOW now claims that carcasses from the trap-kill plan will be used for research, the agency has provided no evidence of any research proposal in Ohio that depends on carcasses, according to the press release.

“DOW’s claim that the kill plan is science-based appears to be a smokescreen to win public approval. How ludicrous would it be for conservation biologists studying our only native cat to kill them to study their population size when they know that the population size and its viability are unknown and possibly precarious,” said Cantino. Cantino authored a resolution passed unanimously by Athens City Council on March 19 opposing the plan.

RESOURCES:

Dr. Shauna L. Weyrauch, Department of Evolution, Ecology & Organismal Biology, The Ohio State University at Newark, (740) 366-9163, weyrauch.2@osu.edu. Dr. Weyrauch, who is a field biologist, testified at the Wildlife Council March meeting on her work studying bobcat populations in the Wild Coshocton Project. website: u.osu.edu/wildcoshocton

How to participate in the public participation process on proposed rules:

1. DOW Comment form: wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/stay-informed/proposed-rule-changes-csi-review. Comments due March 31. Comments can be made through a link at saveohiosbobcats.com to the DOW form. After March 31, people can submit written testimony until 5 p.m., April 23 to wildlife.council@dnr.state.oh.us.

2. Public hearing and testimony information: wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/stay-informed/public-meetings-open-houses: Public who will be affected by the proposal and wish to provide positions, arguments, or contentions in writing for Ohio Wildlife Council or State Fish and Wildlife public hearings may submit them by common courier or delivery to ODNR Division of Wildlife, 2045 Morse Road, Columbus, Ohio 43229, Building G, Attention: Chief, or by email to wildlife.council@dnr.state.oh.us by 5 p.m. on April 23, 2018. The public may also appear in person to provide positions, arguments, or contentions at the public hearing. All oral testimony is required to be three minutes or less. Public hearing on proposed rules: April 23, 2018, Ohio Wildlife Council Hearing: 2:00 p.m., Wildlife District One Office, 1500 Dublin Road, Columbus.

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