Imagine someone going out on the landscape and inexplicably killing wild animals for absolutely nothing. I mean literally wiping out hundreds of animals in a short period of time and then dumping those animals, unused, into some unmarked ditch somewhere. Imagine heaps of animal carcasses being willingly abandoned with no regard - wasted. Imagine that it takes place during all seasons, when they're nursing young of the year, no matter their age, health, or location. Now imagine that this killing and waste takes place under the guise of fighting for animal “advocacy”.
Bobcats in New Hampshire know this scenario all too well, and this frivolous waste of a native wildlife species is the subject of much debate and controversy amongst locals and citizens nationwide. Unfortunately, this isn’t an example of illegal poaching or an activity that can be prosecuted. The New Hampshire bobcat population has become another example of “wildlife stockpiling syndrome”.
If you’re a hunter, trapper, or even a furbearer biologist living in New Hampshire today, you may open yourself to undesired repercussions for even uttering the word “bobcat”. The NH Fish and Game Department proposed a conservative bobcat hunt 2 years ago after UNH studies found the ‘cat population could sustain a conservative harvest. This season proposal would have opened the door for additional monitoring and data collection on the species through regulated take of a small number of bobcats each year, while also allowing for progressive growth of the population at a controlled rate. National animal rights groups, along with some environmental preservation organizations, flocked to the region to fight the proposal - which was subsequently withdrawn by the Department after theatrical public hearings, death threats, and political “cat fights” proved too much to handle. At the time of the withdrawal, New Hampshire’s trappers, hunters, and wildlife management professionals warned that the population of bobcats in New Hampshire was growing out of carrying capacity and could potentially become a nuisance to residents.
Despite having no desire to hunt or trap bobcats, I supported a limited bobcat season because I truly believe in caring for sustainable wildlife populations, rather than having them be under-regulated to the point of being regarded as a “pest”, or ignored by professionals to allow "nature to take its course" un-monitored.
Despite the warnings - politicians, protectionists, and social media “citizen-scientists” felt they knew what was best for the NH bobcat – what would transpire after that infamous bobcat season proposal would have hunters, trappers, and conservationists across the country shaking our heads for years to come.
From Bobcats to Dumpster Cats.
It wasn’t long after the political withdrawal of the bobcat season proposal when truck beds of state employees began to regularly fill with bobcat carcasses. Once a true gift to catch a glimpse of the elusive bobcat on NH’s landscape, was now an almost daily occurrence of peeling ‘cats off of the state’s roadways. Social media accounts and local news outlets were flooded with grainy cell-phone images of bobcats roaming suburban parks and inner-city backyards, snoozing under bird-feeders and stalking local domestic pets. Calls regarding bobcats exhibiting rabid or sick behavior have now become the norm, with three confirmed cases in less than five years, and countless more who were suspected of rabies never tested due to state “funding limitations". It has become apparent to locals, and media outlets, that the bobcat has in fact become part of daily vocabulary in New Hampshire.
While some residents seem content with treating wild animals as props in a petting zoo, many more can see the writing on the wall and understand when the time comes for management of a growing wild species. With no regulated hunting season, the influx in bobcats are now subject to natural control - disease, starvation, depredation, and of course human conflict with vehicle mortalities, loss of habitat, and conflict with domestic livestock. I confidently contend that an offensive number of bobcats in New Hampshire are now regularly thrown away like garbage due to the stipulation that without a regulated season, the carcasses cannot be utilized in any form. Local trappers have nicknamed the once prolific animals “Dumpster Cats”, to describe their only current use. As the ‘cat population continues to grow, those who denounce the hunting and trapping of bobcats in a controlled method, now seem silent about the frivolous, unregulated waste of a natural resource.
We Told You So.
As predicted by wildlife professionals, the inevitable soon transpired; and New Hampshire’s first documented bobcat attack on a resident took place in June of this year. The victim, 80-year old Elsie Dabrowski was in her garden when a bobcat (which would later test positive for rabies) attacked and latched onto her face. She was able to fend the animal off with a sickle and the assistance of her son, a licensed trapper, who cornered the sick animal under a porch and squeezed the trigger on a shotgun until the threat was neutralized. Elsie required over 60 stitches to her face and arms and went through rounds of rabies treatments. The bobcat carcass was taken by NH Fish and Game and tested.
Fur Flies with Pseudoscience.
People and organizations strongly opposed to bobcat hunting in any form wasted no time taking to social media to demonize local trappers, the Fish and Game Department, and department staff, for stating facts about the rising population. The Humane Society of the US boasts the most up-to-date "science" suggests bobcats “don’t need any management from humans”, and that the department’s employees are ignoring this supposed "science" to "pander" to the state’s 600 trappers. No scientific document or study has since been furnished (from what I can find) to demonstrate the Humane Society’s claims – shocking, I know. Add the fact that the bobcat has not been hunted since 1988 - if these ‘cats supposedly manage their own populations for human benefit, as these groups claim, why is the population not stabilizing by now?
Furthermore, those opposed to regulated trapping claim the activity does not assist with rabies reduction in bobcats, or for that matter, any species. If one were to dig deeper into these claims, the sources of these statements speak for themselves. Broad-scale trapping by itself is not effective for complete disease erradication; however the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians Inc does in fact suggest the following:
"Limited control in high-contact areas (e.g., picnic grounds, camps, or suburban areas) may be indicated for the removal of selected high-risk species of wildlife. The state wildlife agency and state health department should be consulted for coordination of any proposed vaccination or population-reduction programs."
As if junk science wasn’t enough, some extremists have taken to newspapers and social media to challenge that the 80-year-old woman staged the recent attack and contested that the rabid bobcat's shotgun injuries confirmed by the state were instead inflicted by a trap. To clarify, it appears some people are dead set that an 80-year-old woman faked being attacked by a sick animal to conjure a need to hunt and trap predators – I seriously can’t make this stuff up if I tried.
Many anti-hunting groups originally fought against NH's proposed bobcat season on the grounds that the bobcat population was "small", and "not becoming a nuisance". Since that's no longer the case, it seems the next step is to cherry-pick scientific data to make puzzle pieces fit where they simply do not.
What's Next for NH's Dumpster Cats?
The facts are clear to those who wish to see them.
The trends show a bobcat population growing out of carrying capacity.
Rather than being utilized through a regulated harvest season, these “surplus individuals” are being recklessly destroyed and thrown in the trash.
Other wildlife populations are clearly feeling the effects of an unregulated bobcat population just as much as the bobcats themselves are.
Despite the theories of some, nature regulates bobcats through disease, starvation, and death – rather than through a desire to maintain their own populations where they think we humans “want” them to.
While bobcat numbers swell in the Granite State, there is currently no form of real data collection or regulated observation being currently performed on this population.
While New Hampshire remains without a regulated bobcat season, Quebec, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont and New York all have current hunting seasons - states that are within arms reach of NH. Some of these states have even opted to loosen restrictions on their current seasons due to population health. Bobcats don’t read state boundary markers.
These are facts that sorely need to be addressed – one way or another New Hampshire’s public, politicians, and the Fish & Game Department are going to have face the reality that stockpiling our wildlife for tourism or a wild petting-zoo does not work. Sadly, over time I fear people may eventually lose sight, and interest, in New Hampshire’s Dumpster Cats.
To follow along through New Hampshire's bobcat management debate, head to the top of this story and click the "Bobcat Season Proposal" tag under the story's title.