Game agency allows open season on bobcats
HARRISBURG - For decades, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has been an insular agency, operating within the narrow confines of a constituency of hunters and trappers. But over the past few years, with demographic changes in society, a migration of deer to the suburbs, a raging and long-standing battle over gun control, and a clash over the use of public lands, the Game Commission has increasingly come under the public spotlight.
The independent state agency is housed at a modern-looking building on Elmerton Avenue, a few miles from the state Capitol. The headquarters building, as you might expect, is decorated with racks of antlers, stuffed birds, and animal heads, even a full-size black bear.
The agency itself operates on an approximate $62 million budget. It has about 700 employees. One of its key functions is law enforcement, overseeing the regulation of hunting. About 7,000 cases each year are prosecuted. The Game Commission controls 1.4 million acres of state game lands.
Most of its decisions, until recently, have been of interest largely to hunters, who pay license fees to the commission.
But the agency's decisions sometimes affect all of us.
At its April meeting, the board overseeing the Game Commission voted 5-1 to allow killing and trapping of bobcats in north central and northeastern Pennsylvania, a region comprised by all or parts of 20 counties. The agency says it will be providing 290 permits, by lottery, w
ith a "harvest objective" of 175 bobcats. The season will run from October to February.
Lynx Rufus. That is the name of the subspecies with a target on its back this fall.
It is an animal protected by the Game Commission for the past 30 years.
There are about 3,100 bobcats in Pennsylvania. The wild, elusive cats are 28 to 37 inches tall. They typically weigh 15-24 pounds. They have stubby 6-inch tails.
They are found in significant numbers in southwestern Pennsylvania, where no hunting will be permitted. The number of bobcats is on the rise in portions of Allegheny, Westmoreland, Washington Fayette counties and other portions of the southwest, according to the Game Commission.
The problem with the Game Commission's decision is that it appeared to be made with blinders - devoid of the reaction from the general public.
The decision makes one think the agency has "lost its instincts for self-survival," said Mike Young, a political science professor at Penn State University's Harrisburg campus.
"The Game Commission itself may well be on an endangered list with a few more decisions like this," said Young.
The issue surfaced at the Capitol last week with a bill by Rep. Gaynor Cawley, a Lackawanna County Democrat, that would establish a three-year moratorium on killing and trapping bobcats.
Animal rights' groups, predictably, attacked the Game Commission's decision. Heidi Prescott, national director of the Fund for Animals, said the agency "thumbed its nose at the wishes of Pennsylvania residents" and demonstrated that it is a "rogue agency."
Much like the abortion debate, arguments over protection of certain animal species, or hunting in general, are dominated by extremes on both sides.
The significance of the bobcat decision was that it sparked a reaction "among just ordinary people," Young said.
"Here, they (game commissioners) have stepped way out of bounds," said Young. They have permitted limited hunting of an animal that "looks awfully like" a domesticated cat.
"Politically, it was a bonehead move," said Young.
While some defend the Game Commission by attacking the critics - animal rights advocates - Young is neither anti-gun nor anti-hunting. He's been a hunter his entire life.
The Game Commission told legislators the opposition is a "thinly veiled attempt by anti-hunting groups to restrict a legitimate pastime."
The problem is that the Game Commission doesn't see that in a new era, decisions can't be made devoid of the larger context.
"This agency has developed its entire operating culture outside the spotlight," said Young. "But a confluence of pressures has opened them to more and more scrutiny. Then they alienate large segments of the public, with these policies."
Vern Ross: Handpicked by Ridge to lead Game Commission.
Gov. Tom Ridge's handpicked man, Vern Ross, has been running the agency for about a year. Ross has certainly helped moved the agency forward. But the bobcat debacle raises serious questions about the agency's collective sanity.
What is the rationale for allowing the hunting of what had been a protected species?
There is no overabundance of bobcats requiring a "thinning out" of the population, the Game Commission agrees.
For the most part, people don't hunt them for food. "There are some people that do (eat them) - very rare," said agency spokesman Jerry Feaser.
The goal apparently is to collect pelts.
Feaser said the decision was made in response to hunters and trappers who have been asking about it for years.
Practically speaking, there is likely to be more trapping than hunting of the cats.
Ross says that unlimited hunting and trapping of bobcats was allowed in Pennsylvania until 1970. Until 1937, the state paid a bounty for bobcats.
With the bobcat population declining, the Game Commission called a halt to bobcat hunting seasons in 1970. The agency has conducted extensive study of bobcats since the mid-1980s, Ross said.
"It is important to understand that the Game Commission would never have approved or endorsed such a proposal if we did not have the scientific data to support this highly limited and regulated harvest," Ross told lawmakers in a May 4 letter. "In fact, the commission's decision to allow the first limited hunting and trapping opportunity in 30 years is a success story that signifies that the species has recovered to the point that it can now sustain a highly regulated season."
Ross said those who disagree with the decision should know the agency is "dedicated to the protection and responsible management" of all wildlife as well as the "preservation of our hunting and trapping heritage."
Brad Bumsted is a state Capitol reporter for the Trib. His analysis appears Sundays.
I'm a freelance writer from Pennsylvania. On April 3rd & 4th, 2000, the PA Game Commission voted to issue over one hundred permits for the hunting and trapping of bobcats in the state of Pennsylvania between the months of October and February, (2000/2001). I emailed everyone I believe is an animal rights activist along with querying an editor to cover an article and also wrote up a petition letter which I had received numerous signatures on and mailed it to the PA Game Commission office. A friend of mine emailed over 300 people through her AOL account and several other folks in the region went business to business gaining signatures for their petition letters .
I printed up a copy of the Shambala Act 2000 and also the Sample letter on your web-site. I am again determined to receive as many signatures as I can so that I may send copies of the letters to state Senators and Representatives. If you will, please send me any other information that might be influential in this war to stop the hunting and trapping of PA bobcats. I don't know if or how you can help, but I would appreciate it if you can point me in some direction. Thank you for your time and I'm looking forward to hearing from you soon. You can contact me at Confamily@yahoo.com or (570) 876-2951.
Sincerely, Donna M. Condida
Please ask to have these permits revoked.
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Concerned Residents of Northeastern Pennsylvania
Vernon Ross, executive director
Pennsylvania Game Commission
2001 Elmerton Avenue
Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797
Dear Vernon Ross,
This letter is written in regards to the proposal made in January concerning the hunting and trapping laws for bobcat, in Pennsylvania. We strongly oppose the possible act of issuing permits for the hunting and trapping of bobcat. There has been no hunting or trapping of bobcat in the state of Pennsylvania for almost thirty years now; to pass a law that would again allow the unnecessary hunting and trapping is uncalled for. In addition, the proposal asks that the hunting and trapping season would run from October through February.
Just to remind you, February is the usual mating season for bobcats. On rare occasions, the mating will take place in December. Young bobcats stay with their mother well into winter of the following season; this would leave ma
ny young bobcats motherless.
Humans rarely see bobcats, due to their coat coloring and incredible feline hiding ability. Bobcats hunt during the night; sometimes beginning their hunting at dusk. The bobcat is not a threat to humans, at present time or in the past. The bobcat's diet consists mainly of small rodents, rabbits, squirrels and the occasional young deer. The number one reason why many humans will encounter a bobcat in the wild occurs because of human need to "own" an exotic cat. Many people, who adopt bobcats while they are cubs, will soon find that the novelty wears off and the cat becomes abandoned, abused or neglected. Many bobcats are let go in the wild by ignorant humans.
When this occurs, the once domestic bobcat finds it difficult to hunt for food and find shelter. Upon the first appearance of another human, the bobcat will approach hoping to find a warm home and full food dish. Unfortunately, tales are woven into horror stories because of human fear of wildcats. When in all actuality, there was no reason to feel threatened by the bobcat.
In the 1970s, bobcat pelts were in great demand; due to the popular "fur" coat that many women adorned. Because of the need to wear animal "fur" or hang animal hide on the "mighty hunter's" wall, the proposal to hunt and trap bobcat has come forth once more. There is already one subspecies of bobcat that is endangered; please don't let another subspecies become threatened by human ignorance. We live in the year 2004; we, as humans, have no need to hunt or trap for food anymore, let alone for fur. If someone needs a coat, there are millions of stores to shop. If someone needs food, again there are millions of stores to shop. There is no such thing as a "poor" person in today's society. (Although, some are financially insecure) With so many programs out there helping people obtain food and clothing through government agencies and non-profit organizations, the need to hunt or trap has just become a need to legally kill.
We ask you, as pet owners to pet owners, can you really pass a law that would allow for the merciless killing of cats that have the ability to act as a house-cat? Bobcats are quite shy creatures and provided they are not threatened, starving or rabid they will not attack or endanger humans. (Consider, if a human felt threatened, was starving or rabid wouldn't they too attack or endanger another human).
In conclusion, we find that there is no need to jeopardize the bobcat to lead it to possible endangerment. Again, we ask that you please consider who made the proposal and why. Remember that we no longer live in a society that needs to hunt or trap for food or clothing. (The inconsiderate snob-nosed men and women in our world can do without that fur jacket, just as well as the unethical "sportsman" can do without the Neanderthal hunt).
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. Below are the signatures of those who oppose any law allowing the hunting and trapping of bobcat in the state of Pennsylvania.
Signature Print Name
Address City State Zip
Signature Print Name
Address City State Zip
E-mail your representative and tell them how you feel about exotic cats being killed for sport in your state: Find them at: CatLaws.com
Stop Cruelty Like This:
Mike Marsh took this bobcat during a deer hunt in Pender County. Bobcats are not rare, and are classified as furbearers and game animals in North Carolina, with a long hunting and trapping season. Photo by Mike Marsh
Bobcats are not rare animals. In North Carolina, they are classified as furbearers and game animals. As such, there is a long open season on bobcats for hunting and trapping.
Despite the fact that they are not rare, few people see them. Those who are observant can spot the signs of their passing, though. Clawed marks on trees, deer kills with partially eaten hindquarters and grass kicked on the carcass, scent posts on scratched up mounds along sandy trails and tracks are indicators of bobcats. I trapped them when through my early 20s, selling their beautiful tawny furs with the spotted undersides to help pay for college.
While I had always wanted a bobcat rug, I sold every one I trapped and have allowed those I saw while hunting deer to walk away. I have found one doe deer and several wild turkeys that had been killed by bobcats and actually witnessed a bobcat killing a yearling deer. They are efficient predators.
Bobcat signs had been evident around my duck ponds this year. A few feathers were all that remained after some animal had dined on wood ducks. Eating everything, including the feet and skull, of a small prey animal is characteristic of a bobcat kill. Therefore, I was not really surprised when one made an appearance, stalking wood ducks along the edge of a pond 150 yards from my tree stand. But it seemed surreal, watching it silently hunting, using a tiny fallen branch with a few leaves as cover while it sneaked within leaping range.