Niagara Gazette — For as long as I can remember, the Southern Tier has been like a second home for me. I’ve spent many a weekend camping, hiking and hunting the forests of Allegany County.
Despite all of that time spent outdoors, in what is prime bobcat habitat, I’ve been lucky enough to see the wild felines only twice in my life. One of the sightings was a fleeting moment, just catching a glimpse of the cat as he ran off. The other was an awe-inspiring 10 minute show — I will always remember the sight of that magnificent creature sauntering through a rocky hillside in search of its prey.
Most people I know who frequent the Allegheny foothills – residents and hunters alike – haven’t been so fortunate. I can count on one hand the number of them who have seen the cats. In comparison, most of them have seen black bears.
Granted, bobcats are shy creatures, but if they were common, wouldn’t I have been privy to more sightings? Wouldn’t my fellow outdoorsmen have seen evidence of their existence, from tracks to scat?
That is why I find it odd that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has proposed rules that will open up more bobcat hunting and trapping. Once confined to the Adirondacks and the Catskills, the DEC would like to expand the harvest to the Southern Tier, in all counties along the Pennsylvania border.
This proposal was based on an alleged explosion in New York’s bobcat population. The total population within the Empire State is now estimated to be 5,000 cats. 5,000. That’s an awfully small number, one that certainly doesn’t warrant greater hunting privileges.
When compared to other game animals, bobcats are undeniably rare. The population of our most popular target, the white-tailed deer, exceeds 1 million in New York. Wild turkeys number 250,000. Black bears are modestly more abundant than bobcats at 8,000 statewide.
To put it into perspective against a non-game animal, across New York there are 2,000 breeding ospreys. If they support 2 chicks per pair, were looking at a statewide population of 4,000 birds. At such numbers, the DEC labels the birds as a species of “special concern”.
Maybe it’s that rareness that gives the bobcat the mystique it has. It’s that rareness, too, that should continue to prevent its killing in Western New York. Even some hardened hunters like me are against the expanded hunt – and I’m someone who makes over 20 hunting outing into WNY woods each year while consuming venison 7 times a week.
If, like me, you harbor reservations about the new rules, there is still some time to make your voice heard about the expanded harvest opportunity. The second round of public comment comes to a close next Monday, April 8th (the first round was used to help craft the proposals last year). If you would like to see the hunt stay as is (limited to the eastern half of the state) or more limited in scope as it heads westward, contact the DEC. You can send a letter to Bryan L. Swift, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233; or you email the DEC at email@example.com.
If you’ve never seen a bobcat, you are missing something special; they are far more attractive and interesting than any domesticated cat ever could be, and they may be the most handsome of New York’s wild mammals. Let’s just hope that your first chance to view them isn’t as a trophy or a fur hanging on someone’s wall.Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. He also writes for the New American at TheNewAmerican.com. Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.