By David E. Malloy
IRONTON -- While sightings of bobcats and black bears are on the increase in southeastern Ohio, there were no confirmed sightings of either animal in Lawrence County in 2006. There were confirmed sightings of both bobcats and black bears in the county within the last two years, an Ohio Department of Natural Resources official said Monday.
There were 37 sightings of bobcats by state wildlife officials during 2006, increased evidence of the presence of bobcats in Ohio's eastern and southeastern counties, said Sue Matthews, a department spokeswoman. That's an increase from 20 verified sightings in 2005, she said.
Bobcats are native to the area, but they were all but gone from the area by the mid-1800s due to hunting and loss of habitat, said Dave Swanson, a forest wildlife biologist based in Athens.
"They were trapped year round," he said. "They started reappearing on their own in the 1940s, probably coming over from Pennsylvania and West Virginia. There has been a slow increase."
Male bobcats weigh between 25 to 30 pounds and female bobcats weigh between 15 and 20 pounds, he said. They are about twice the size of a big tomcat, he said.
There is no estimate of the number of bobcats in Ohio, but the department is planning to start a survey this fall, Swanson said. "We have seen some beautiful pictures of them on motion sensor cameras set out by deer hunters," he said.
There have been sightings in a number of local counties including Athens, Vinton, Jackson, Meigs, Gallia and Adams. The bobcat is an endangered species protected by state law, Matthews said.
As for black bears, there have been sightings of black bears in Lawrence County since 1993, Swanson said. There have been sightings seven years in the past 23 years of at least four different bears, he said.
Both the black bear and the bobcat can travel hundreds of miles, he said. There were five unverified reports of black bears in Lawrence County in 2005 and one confirmed sighting in 2004.
There also have been sightings of coyotes in all 88 Ohio counties.
"I think it's an excellent trend," he said. "It's a good indication the forest ecosystem is healthy. Ohio is 31 percent forested."
Gloria Chrismer, Ironton district ranger at the Wayne National Forest, said forestry officials are trying to develop different types of forest habitat, which has helped promote different types of wildlife.