The bobcat, an elusive and beautiful Adirondack neighbor, has managed to do what the wolf and the cougar could not. It has held its own against the trophy hunters, fur traders, and those who through fear or misplaced sense of sport take aim at the wild predator. In the Adirondack Park and other regions of the state bobcats continue to pad through the forest.
We should celebrate this victory of wild nature over senseless destruction and do what we can to extend the bobcat’s reign. Instead, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has proposed expanding the hunting and trapping of bobcats. By the time this magazine reaches you, the DEC may have chosen whether to expand the killing of bobcats or leave the seasons as they are. Neither is acceptable. It should end hunting and trapping bobcats altogether.
In arguing for the expanded season, the DEC’s bobcat-management plan says one of its main goals is to “Provide for sustainable use and enjoyment of bobcat by the public.” Though the document acknowledges that “enjoyment” may include photography, the thrust of the plan is to encourage those who would enjoy the bobcat by killing it. The attitude is an anachronism, a throwback to a frontier attitude that the wild is something for humans to battle, subjugate, or extirpate.
Unlike deer and other game, bobcats are not a meaningful food source as hunters usually don’t eat their flesh.
They are not an important nor an honorable source of income as trade in their pelts has plunged since its nineteenth-century heyday. Wearing the fur of a wild cat isn’t chic in a society that at least in this way has become more enlightened about our relationship with nature.
So what’s left as a reason to kill these creatures? Trophy hunting? A photograph captured through the combination of wilderness knowledge, artistic skill, and persistent effort is a worthy trophy. A glassy-eyed carcass preserved by the taxidermist is just sad evidence of sensibilities that should have been laid to rest long ago.
With some wild-animal populations, hunting is a necessary management tool for those working to maintain balance in natural ecosystems. Since we earlier wiped out the cougars and wolves that helped keep deer numbers in check, having human hunters fill that niche helps prevent the deer population from exploding to the point where it overwhelms other elements of the ecosystem. In the large sense, the deer are better off when hunters humanely kill some of their number and spare the rest from the hunger and slow death that arise from an overwhelmed habitat.
But there is no need to “harvest” bobcats to keep their population from growing beyond what the habitat can support. Other agents, including natural predators and disease, keep the bobcat population under control.
Nor is there a case to be made that we twenty-first-century sojourners in the state’s wilder environs need to kill bobcats to protect ourselves, our livestock, or our domestic pets. Experts say bobcats are not a threat to humans and they rarely come into conflict. Similarly, the cats don’t threaten larger domestic animals. And simple precautions, such as keeping smaller pets inside, should be enough to prevent problems even in areas where human settlements share bobcat territory.
In comments sent to the DEC, public opinion weighed heavily against the extension of bobcat hunting and trapping: 80 percent of the 1,200 comments were in opposition. These opponents should continue to speak out. There is no justification for continuing the sanctioned killing of these wild creatures at any time.
Tom Woodman, Publisher