Wednesday, November 18, 2009
NORTHAMPTON - State wildlife officials ran into a furor of criticism at a public information session Tuesday night from residents worried about a proposed change to the regulations governing bobcat hunting in Massachusetts.
The main issue before the gathering was the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife's proposal to remove the quota on the number of bobcats killed each hunting season. Nearly 30 people packed into the City Council chambers in Northampton, and everyone who spoke opposed the proposal.
Under the current law, bobcat hunting season is called to a close once 50 bobcats have been killed in the eight wildlife management zones in western and central Massachusetts where bobcat hunting is permitted.
Yet that quota is unnecessary, state wildlife biologist Laura Hadjuk said Tuesday evening, because the average number of bobcats killed over the past 30 hunting seasons is 24.
"The quota is unnecessary because it did not limit harvest during the years it was in place. The quota was only met once in the 32 years it was in place," Hadjuk said, speaking before the gathering. "A quota is logistically impractical because it creates confusion among hunters who do not know when the quota has been reached and contributes to unnecessary administrative overhead and communication burdens."
That was a statement that did not go down well with those in attendance.
Kurt Heidinger of Westhampton pressed Hadjuk on why removing the quota was necessary if the quota was never met. He also asked if the new regulations would have an impact on the number of bobcats killed each hunting season.
Hadjuk said it would not.
"We are simply removing a cap that never capped the harvest," Hadjuk said in response to Heidinger.
Helen Rayshick of Barre disputed the notion that removing the quota would not impact the number of bobcats killed. She cited the number of bobcats killed last year, 52, and noted that the state had no means of determining how many would be killed next year.
"You say you don't want to increase the number of animals killed, yet last year you exceeded the quota limit," Rayshick said. Her fears were echoed by others later in the meeting when Hadjuk noted that the number of coyotes killed each hunting season had doubled once coyote hunting season was expanded.
Hadjuk said it was not the department's goal to reduce the bobcat population.
"A stable population or increased population is what we are interested in," Hadjuk said. She noted that while the department does receive complaints about bobcats killing livestock, those complaints are few and far between.
Hadjuk noted that bobcat hunting season is currently 2½ months, from Dec. 20 to March 8, while trapping season covers the month of November. In the first half of the 20th century, bobcats were hunted year-round for a bounty. Since that time, hunting seasons have grown increasingly short, and are now the shortest they have ever been, Hadjuk said, noting that similar measures like regulating hunting hours and prohibiting the use of dogs in tracking the animals are more effective means of preventing large-scale killing.
Bob Zimmerman, a wildlife biologist from UMass, asked Hadjuk what the department's management goals were with respect to bobcats.
Hadjuk said the department was trying to accommodate different values in the community. Some people like to hunt bobcats, some like to see them in the wild - and the department tries to maintain bobcat numbers at a level that supports both, Hadjuk said.
That statement prompted Zimmerman to ask who had supported the proposed rule change. Hadjuk responded that hunters in Berkshire County had been supportive of the new proposal.
Tom O'Shea, assistant director of wildlife research, said the department had received 60 letters opposing the new measure and six letters in support.
Jackie Compton of Williamsburg asked if those who did not support the hunting of bobcats would be heard by the department. Officials responded together, saying that each letter was read and considered and that the values of all segments of the population were considered in the decision-making process.
O'Shea noted that the laws governing bobcat hunting are regulated by the department and therefore could be changed by a vote of the Fisheries and Wildlife board. He said it is possible that the board will vote on the rule change at its next meeting on Sunday.
Ben Storrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org