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 prosecuted. The New Hampshire bobcat population has become another example of "wildlife stockpiling".
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 opted to open a conservative bobcat hunt 2 years ago after UNH studies noted 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, backed by environmental preservation organizations, flocked to the region to fight the proposal - which was subsequently withdrawn by the Department after theatrical public hearings, death threats, and political “cat fights” proved too much for the Department to handle. At the time of the withdrawal, New Hampshire’s trappers, hunters, and biologists warned that the population of bobcats in New Hampshire was growing out of carrying capacity and would soon 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" unmonitored.
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 in complete disgust.
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. What was 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 wild species. With no regulated hunting season, the influx in bobcats are now subject to natural control - disease, starvation, predation, and of course human conflict from roadkills, loss of habitat, and conflict with domestic livestock. 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. It’s at a point that 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 threw a hat in the ring to denounce the hunting and trapping of bobcats in a controlled method, now turn a blind eye to 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 Elise 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 chased the animal under a porch and squeezed the trigger on his shotgun until the animal stopped wailing. She 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.
Those of us who chanted the need for management from the beginning were not only upset at the incident, but motivated more than ever to point out the current necessity for wildlife management. Above all else, we expected our concerns and plights would be vindicated and a limited bobcat season would be a no-brainer to even the most diehard skeptic. To our surprise, local and national animal rights groups would set up a circus side-show that nobody could have imagined.
Fur Flies with Pseudoscience.
Special interest groups opposed to bobcat hunting in any form wasted no time taking to social media to demonize local trappers, the Fish and Game Department, and the department’s furbearer biologist, for stating facts about the rising population. The Humane Society of the US boasts the most up-to-date "science" dictates bobcats don’t need any management from humans, and that the department’s employees are ignoring this "science" to "pander" to the state’s 600 trappers. No scientific document or study has since been furnished to demonstrate the Humane Society’s claims – shocking, I know. Add the fact that the bobcat has not been hunted since 1988 - if it supposedly "self regulates" as these groups claim, why is the population not stabilizing now?
Some of these groups claim regulated trapping does not assist with rabies reduction on a species. If one were to dig deeper into these claims, the sources of these statements speak for themselves. Broad-scale trapping alone is not effective for total disease control; 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, local animal rights extremists have taken to newspapers and social media to challenge that the 80-year-old woman staged the recent attack and that the rabid bobcat's shotgun injuries confirmed by the state were supposedly the result of a foothold-trap. These people actually charge that an 80-year-old woman faked being attacked by a rabid bobcat to justify the need for a bobcat trapping season – ladies and gentlemen I seriously can’t make this stuff up if I tried.
These special-interest 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, they have resorted to attacking state-appointed biologists who don't agree with their convoluted "kumbaya" brand of wildlife management.
What's Next for NH's Dumpster Cats?
The facts are clear to those who wish to see them.
- The bobcat population is 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 desperate ravings of those against hunting & trapping, nature regulates bobcats through disease, starvation, and death – not through responsive reproduction.
- While bobcat numbers swell in the Granite State, there is currently no form of real data collection or regulated observation being currently performed.
- 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.
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 wild creatures for a "rainy day" does not work. Sadly, tourists, residents, and conservation-minded people alike will 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.