Saturday, March 31, 2007
By Dave Tobin
Beautiful, stealthy and hard to spot, bobcats are returning to Central New York.
Recent survey efforts by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and recently allowed bobcat trapping results in a few Southern Tier towns, indicate that bobcats are populating parts of the state that have not recently been known as bobcat country.
"They're kind of secretive, but they are in this region," said Maria Kautz, wildlife manager for DEC Region 7, a nine-county area from Oswego to Broome and Tioga counties at the Pennsylvania border.
Since last fall, 22 "credible" bobcat sightings have been reported. Additionally, 10 bobcats were trapped in eastern Broome County.
Sighting reports have been prompted by DEC requests. Late last summer, the DEC's Region 7 office sent bobcat alert notices to town and village offices, fish and game clubs, outdoor stores and farm feed suppliers - targeting people likely to spot a bobcat. The DEC has posted a bobcat observation report card on its Web site. It asks to identify the habitat where the bobcat was observed, the bobcat's behavior and whether tracks were seen.
"Credible" sighting reports are those that have been vetted by telephone interviews with DEC staff, said Kautz. Many reports that came in were not credible, she said.
Since last fall, one bobcat was "credibly" sighted in each of Cayuga, Tompkins and Madison counties, four
in Oswego County and five in Onondaga County. One of those, a bobcat roadkill discovered Nov. 8 on John Glenn Boulevard, near Onondaga Lake Park, is considered "confirmed" and "documented," a higher degree of authentication than "credible."
Kautz said the cat was a male. She wasn't sure where it came from.
"It could be we have some bobcats living in that area," she said.
Ten bobcats trapped in Broome County are also considered "documented." Kautz said the bobcats there could be "dispersing" from Pennsylvania, where they have a more stable population.
Kautz said the bobcat spotted in Cayuga County was seen by a grouse hunter near Long Point State Park in Ledyard. She said the animal was about 10 yards from the hunter and was running from the hunter's golden retriever. She added tracks were noted and the area where the sighting took place was a brushy gully.
Bobcats are solitary and elusive. The spotted cats have a short tail and are about twice the size of a housecat. Kautz said the closest sightings she ever heard about came from turkey hunters in the Albany area, who were calling turkeys and attracted a bobcat that stalked towardthe hunter who was calling.
"They could be present in an area and we just don't know it," she said.
Betsy Darlington, director of preserve stewardship for the Finger Lakes Land Trust, based in Ithaca, said she has never seen or heard of one being seen in the Finger Lakes region.
Bobcats like rock ledges, rock and brush piles, hollow trees and logs. They like evergreen bogs and swamps.
Until 1971, when the state Legislature passed a law ending bounty payments, many Northern New York counties paid bobcat bounties. In 1976, the DEC closed a large portion of the state to bobcat hunting and trapping. Bobcats are not on any threatened or endangered list in New York.
Bobcats can be hunted and trapped in the Adirondacks (from October to February) and Catskills (from October to December). They are more densely populated in the Catskills, according to the DEC. In 2005-06, a total of 472 bobcats were trapped and hunted in those regions, according to DEC records.
This past hunting season, and for the next two hunting seasons, the DEC has opened a section of the Southern Tier (portions of Broome, Chenango, Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie counties) to bobcat trapping from November to February. It's the first time trapping bobcat has been allowed in the area in 20 years. DEC staff say they will use trapping results from that area to better estimate the population.
Because bobcats are so elusive, the DEC also tried to verify bobcat presence this past season in Oswego and Chenango counties using remote camera "traps," said Kautz. The cameras did not photograph any bobcats.
The camera trap "is a situation where you don't need a person in the field to have direct contact," said Kautz.
Full results of the first season's Southern Tier trapping experiment are expected to be available in May.
Dave Tobin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 253-7316.
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