Thursday, February 19, 2009

Iowa: Lift bobcat hunting limit, lawmaker says

By PERRY BEEMAN - - February 18, 2009

A state lawmaker wants to declare open season on bobcats, a controversial move he contends is needed because the predators may be killing too many turkeys.

Rep. Richard Arnold, a hunter from Russell in southern Iowa, wants lawmakers to remove a statewide limit on the number of bobcats that can be trapped or hunted in a given year.

A state commission would still set a season and designate areas where the hunting would be allowed, and each person could kill only one bobcat a year.

But Arnold's measure would gradually increase the annual quota: from 200 last year to 1,000 this year, 2,000 in 2010, and no limit in 2011.

"I don't want to exterminate the bobcats," said Arnold, a Republican. "But they are causing a problem with turkeys. I want the DNR to become aware that there are more bobcats than they think."

Rough estimates put the state's current bobcat population at around 2,500, although some biologists believe the number may be higher. Officials with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources were already discussing whether to raise the limit for this fall's season to 250.

Arnold doubts he has enough votes to pass his measure, House File 41, which has yet to be approved by a committee. But other Midwestern states have no quotas, and the lawmaker hopes his proposal will persuade the DNR to raise Iowa's quota significantly.

The DNR opposes the legislation as a threat to Iowa's bobcat population. The cats were removed from the state's threatened species list in 2003, after the population was re-established over two decades. Populations of bobcats are higher in bordering states.

DNR biologists say more aggressive hunting and trapping in the state would also likely violate an international wildlife treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The treaty requires threatened species to be managed based on science, and Arnold's legislation makes no provisions for reducing the kill if the bobcat population drops too much, DNR lobbyist Diane Ford-Shivvers said.

There is also disagreement over whether the cats are even to blame for the perceived increase in turkey deaths. Arnold said hunters have seen carcasses left from bobcat feeding, but recent studies of the contents of dead bobcats' stomachs in Iowa have found few turkeys or other large fowl.

Rick Tebbs of the Iowa Conservation Alliance, which represents hunting groups, said an open season on bobcats should be allowed only if the DNR supports the move. "We believe in setting seasons based on biologists' information," Tebbs said.

Dave Van Waus of Colo, a hunter, also opposes unlimited killing because Iowa biologists really don't have a firm population estimate.

"We need some kind of restraint until we are able to know the population level," said Van Waus, a regional biologist for Pheasants Forever, a nonprofit organization.

Stanley Johnson, a hunter from Villisca, said he supports a move to kill more bobcats — but not an unlimited number — because he believes they are also killing quail and pheasants. "Like everything else, they need to be managed," he said.

But Ron Andrews, a DNR biologist, said Iowa's bobcat population is not strong enough for unlimited hunting. He also said while bobcats eat turkeys and pheasants, they are much more likely to eat rabbits or mice in Iowa.

Bobcats now can be killed only in the southern two tiers of counties and in Woodbury, Monona, Harrison and Pottawattamie counties in western Iowa. Once hunters have killed the quota for a year, the season is closed, usually in three weeks.

The state may add Warren, Marion and Madison counties to the hunting zone this year, Andrews said. That proposal is expected to be considered by the Iowa Natural Resource Commission in the next few months.


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