While Arizona, Colorado, California, Illinois, Indiana and other states have recently considered challenges or outright bans on hunting and trapping feral cats, officials with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources are proposing an expansion of wildcat seasons within of the Lower Peninsula of the state.
Michigan DNR has documented stable populations of bobcats throughout the state, and short-tailed cats have a strong foothold in every county in the state. As a result, the agency has proposed expanding the existing seasons in the Lower Peninsula from 11 to 20 days and creating a new 11-day season in nine counties in the southern part of the state. Game drives in the Upper Peninsula, with its more liberal seasons, will remain unchanged.
Like many species of wildlife in Michigan, bobcat populations in the lower peninsula plummeted in the late 1800s when a logging boom swept the state. But as habitat has regenerated, connectivity has improved, and today the cats have reclaimed their place in the Great Lakes State ecosystem.
“In the northern half of the Lower Peninsula, we see bobcat populations that are doing well, even with harvest,” Adam Bump, Michigan DNR bear and fur specialist, told MeatEater. “We have seen that occupancy increases over time. They’re filling in that good habitat wherever it exists.”
According to Bump, the goal of the proposed expansion is to provide more hunting and trapping opportunities while maintaining the state’s thriving bobcat population.
“The populations look stable, healthy and resilient,” he said. “What we’re seeing are some pretty modest increases in opportunity and we’re expanding into an area that has bobcat populations that are connected to everywhere else.”
Bump said that opponents of the proposals have been sounding, but so far, there hasn’t been any organized opposition that can really prevent the expansions from moving forward.
“A representative of the HSUS [Humane Society of the United States] was present at last week’s meeting of the Natural Resources Commission expressing his opposition,” he said. “The NRC indicated that they have received calls and emails from people who are opposed to the idea, but there were also two people who came forward in favor of season expansions, one representing a collection of capture groups and one representing a collection of capture groups. speaks for some hunting groups here. in Michigan”.
Nick Green is the public information officer for the Michigan United Conservation Club. MUCC is Michigan’s largest conservation organization with some 40,000 members statewide. He said his organization supports the proposed expansion of Michigan’s wildcat hunting and trapping seasons. He does not expect substantial opposition to materialize, much less stand in the way of future proposals.
“We have a good outdoor heritage ethic here,” Green told MeatEater. “We are a state that was founded on the backs of trappers. Even people who don’t hunt or fish in our state often approve of the lifestyle. There will always be antis, but the foothold they have here is not very strong.
Michigan’s strong outdoor heritage aside, a small but vocal group of animal rights activists are beginning to voice their opposition to the proposed expansion of bobcat seasons in the Lower Peninsula.
In a recent interview with online media outlet MLive.com, Molly Tamulevich, Michigan director of the Humane Society of the United States, sought to cast doubt on the methodology used by the DNR to determine population stability. of wildcats in the state, a methodology that relies heavily on harvest data from hunters and trappers.
“The fact is that the number of dead bobcats has absolutely no relationship to the number of live real bobcats in Michigan,” Tamulevich told _MLive. _“The bottom line is that the Michigan DNR has no idea how many bobcats there are in the state, but wants to allow even more to die, for no other reason than to accommodate the demands of a small and shrinking minority. who want to get a trophy or a skin.”
In stark contrast to Tamulevich’s characterization of bobcat hunters and trappers as a “tiny and shrinking minority,” is a recent survey released by the Michigan DNR, “2020 Harvest of Wildcat Hunters and Trappers in Michigan.”
This survey shows that 13,472 Michiganders earned a bobcat harvest tag for the 2020 season. That equates to a 23% increase from 2019 and a 34% increase from 2018.
For his part, Adam Bump points to the data his agency has amassed over the years, data that supports the contention that bobcat populations in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula are strong enough to sustain a modest increase in catch quotas. At the same time, he rejects the idea that challenges to hunting or trapping the bobcat are based on legitimate biological concerns about the long-term viability of the species.
“If you look at some of our neighboring states like Illinois or Indiana, where bobcat hunting is being challenged, they don’t have population issues,” Bump said. “The only challenges they have for their seasons come from people who don’t want bobcats to be harvested. They are not shutting down these seasons because they have biological concerns. It is more a response to social pressure.”
The proposal to expand Michigan’s bobcat hunting and trapping seasons will be put to a vote at the March 10 meeting of the Natural Resources Commission. NRC meetings are streamed live on the Michigan United Conservation Club Facebook page.