I gave testimony on Monday night at the State House and on Tuesday night in Lancaster on Fish and Game’s proposal for bobcat hunting. I have been a licensed New Hampshire wildlife rehabilitator for 29 years and director at Elaine Conners Center for Wildlife in Madison for 25 years, and I am opposed to hunting bobcat.
We began taking in bobcats at the Elaine Conners Center for Wildlife in 1992 and have a scientific permit to microchip the released cats. In the 24 years since 1992, we have taken in only 17 bobcats. This compares to over 10,000 other animals accepted at the center in the same time period.
I believe, as others do, that the numbers in the study are skewed and the proposal premature. The most cats we have seen at our center in any one year were two. Those years were 2007, 2002, 2001 and 2000. Years that we saw one cat were 2013, 2008, 2004, 1999, 1997, 1996, 1994, 1993 and 1992. All other years we had zero intake. The heaviest bobcat activity was between 1992 and 1997, and in the past seven years, we have taken in only one bobcat.
The University of New Hampshire bobcat study asked the public to report encounters with bobcats, and more than 1,000 reports were received. How many of those were duplicate sightings and how did the study prevent duplicate counting? John Livaitis, lead researcher at UNH, has spoken about the “enthusiasm and passion people expressed for bobcats … and that for many of them, this is an animal that represents the magnificence of nature.”
Was the public told that the information they provided about their encounters would be used to create a bobcat season? When asked in 2008 for my sighting input, I was not told that it would be the foundation for a bobcat hunt. And the general public sharing their bobcat encounters on Facebook and WMUR u-local, does not mean that there is an over-abundance of wildcats in the state.
Last winter, with the permission of Fish and Game and a landowner, I attempted to live-trap a bobcat in a populated area of Conway. The cat was reported in six different locations as a different cat. Yet it was the same male bobcat, making his way along shoveled paths to birdfeeders, trying to survive in a winter where snow was three times his height. Facebook photos showed this cat in various locations within 5 miles, well within his large territory. But one cat sighted by numerous people is still one cat.
When asked the survival rate used in the study, I was told that based on a litter of two or three kittens, the survival rate is 2.2 kittens, which I question because in New Hampshire they are at the top of their range with survival more difficult than southern climates. I feel a 2.2 survival rate is high when most juvenile wildlife don’t make it past their first birthday.
In 1991, I took from Twin Mountain two juvenile siblings that were not going to make it through the winter. They were already starving — in December. Given the estimated two to three kittens per mother, if two kittens had been born and both kittens died it would have been a 100 percent mortality. Even if the mother was alive and had a third with her, this is a 66 percent mortality.
Just because I am a wildlife rehabilitator, that does not mean that I do not understand the realities of hunting. I have a scientific permit to raise fawns and moose calves for release, realizing that these animals will be subject to hunting at some point. But the bobcat has struggled for 27 years to make a comeback from the brink of disappearance in our state. Is it prudent to take an animal from a state of protection to a season of hunting and trapping? The study estimates that there are 1,400 bobcats in the state, and states the population appears to have grown. The proposal says that a conservative season of 50 permits will allow for continued growth at a rate slightly less than it would be without the season. This 50-permit season, however, is the initial season and will likely be increased to adjust for the annual increase in bobcat population.
I have read repeatedly that bobcat harvest occurs in all states and provinces bordering New Hampshire. In recent revisions for wildlife rehabilitation regulations in New Hampshire, rehabbers lobbied for a written test for newcomers, using the case that all bordering states require it before new rehabbers can accept wildlife. This argument did not hold water and the regulations were passed without a test. To say that other states do this is no reason to say that we must.
More than 550 people turned out for the hearing at the State House on Monday night and the overwhelming majority opposed this bobcat season. At the Lancaster hearing on Tuesday night, although there were a good many who spoke in favor of the bill, there were as many hunters and sportsmen who spoke in opposition.
This bill is premature. This protected species is being placed in a lottery season when words like “estimate” and “appear” are being used in their current population count. The proposal is off the mark on a number of levels. I urge the commissioners, before voting, to look at all the facts, not simply the charts and graphs behind this proposal.
If you wish to express your opinion, Fish and Game is accepting comments until Feb. 10 at email@example.com. If you wish to contact your county commissioners, they are listed on the Fish and Game website at wildlife.state.nh.us. The final vote takes place on Wednesday, Feb. 17, at 1 p.m. at Fish and Game headquarters in Concord.
Cathie Gregg is the executive director of the Elaine Conners Center for Wildlife in Madison.