Bob Frye: Potential bobcat changes at least year away
Hunters and trappers likely won't see any changes to Pennsylvania bobcat seasons in 2018-19.
But after that?
Well, that's less certain.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission established a season on bobcats in 2000. It was the first since 1970 and was in response to a bobcat population that was growing numerically and geographically.
From that year through 2009, a limited number of bobcat permits were issued.
Starting in 2010, the commission allowed an unlimited number of furtakers to pursue bobcats. Harvest — one bobcat per hunter per year — instead was managed using shorter seasons.
Harvests climbed pretty steadily each year through 2013, said Matt Lovallo, chief of the furbearer management section for the commission.
Since then, however, harvests have been trending down.
In 2016-17, hunters and trappers took a little more than 800 bobcats. In 2017-18, the total is closer to 700.
"And more importantly, the success rate of our permit holders has begun to decline," Lovallo said. "We've gone from about 7.3 bobcats being taken per 100 permits issued, now down to almost five bobcats taken per 100 permits issued."
"One of the best indices we have in terms of detecting changes in our bobcat population is our reports of incidental bobcat captures," Lovallo said.
Incidental captures are bobcats caught in traps — usually set for coyotes or red foxes — outside of the season. They're released alive, Lovallo said. Those numbers peaked in 2009 but declined annually thereafter through 2012.
They've held steady since, Lovallo said.
That suggests the population may have stabilized at a new, lower level, he said.
That bears watching, he added.
"We're not in a crisis situation. It's been a slow and steady decline," Lovallo said.
But the commission's 10-year bobcat management plan — five years old now — calls for considering changes to bobcat seasons if harvests and success rates fall at the same time populations seem to be dropping. It says two-week hunting and trapping seasons may be in order.
Right now, both seasons are three weeks.
Biologists don't believe that needs to change right away.
"I don't think we're there yet," Lovallo said.
It's why they recommended a three-week trapping season that would run from Dec. 15, 2018 through Jan. 6, 2019, and a three-week hunting season that would go from Jan. 12 through Feb. 6, 2019.
Hunting and trapping would be allowed in wildlife management units 2A, 2C, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A, 4C, 4D and 4E.
Game commissioners preliminarily approved those recommendations. Final approval is expected at their April meeting.
But shorter seasons aren't out of the question going forward, either. Additional monitoring will determine what happens next, Lovallo said.