The state Department of Environmental Conservation has adopted a controversial five-year bobcat management plan that drew more than 1,600 public comments earlier this year.
The plan is the first of its kind to guide the management of this elusive animal and will help set hunting and trapping regulations.
The biggest change in the North Country is that the bobcat trapping season will be extended. It now runs from Oct. 25 to Dec. 25. The plan proposes to extend that season until Feb. 15. The change would make the bobcat trapping season the same as the current hunting season.
(AP photo — Steve Bisson, Savannah [Ga.] Morning News)
"The goal of this plan is not to reduce bobcat populations anywhere in the state, since bobcats cause few conflicts with human interests or activities," the management plan states. "We expect our actions to maintain populations at or above their current levels in eastern New York, while allowing for continued population growth in central and western New York."
The DEC estimates that there are about 5,000 bobcats in the state and believes that the population is growing. That number is based on monitoring in traditional bobcat habitats in the Adirondack, Catskill and Taconic mountains. It doesn't include many areas in central and western New York, where the population is growing.
The plan states that about 470 bobcats are taken by hunters and trappers annually and that that number is expected to increase by 150 in upcoming years due to changes in the plan and the growing populations. Eventually, the DEC estimates the population will stabilize at somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 animals. The population is expected to be limited more by geographical constraints than by harvests from hunters and trappers, according to the plan.
When the trapping season extension in the North Country was originally proposed, it was backed by the New York Conservation Council and New York State Trappers Association, but many members of the public and some environmental groups criticized it.
"If the object here, as DEC describes it, is to make administration of those two seasons easier for the department, we would have preferred to see the hunting season get a little shorter than the trapping season get longer," Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan said. "We are concerned that trapping this top predator twice as long this year as we have in the past may put a serious dent in its population."
Calls to the Conservation Council and Trappers Association were not immediately returned Wednesday.
The plan states that an average of 165 bobcats were taken annually by hunters and trappers between 2005 and 2010. Of those, 88 were taken by hunters, 77 were taken by trappers, and the other harvests were unknown.
The plan states that the DEC expects "minimal harvests" to occur due to the extended season because of the winter weather conditions.
"Few trappers can afford the time to maintain trap sets in remote areas of the Adirondacks," the plan states.
The plan also states that trapping seasons for fox, coyote, opossum, skunk and other fur bearers were extended in eight northern wilderness management units during the 2010-11 season and that a mail survey revealed that only 3 percent of trappers took advantage of the new opportunity.
"We expect a similar level of participation by bobcat trappers with the same season extension," the plan states.
Contact Mike Lynch at 518-891-2600 ext. 28 or mlynch@adirondackdailyenterprise.