While Arizona, Colorado, California, Illinois, Indiana, and other states have recently considered challenges or outright bans to wild cat hunting and trapping, officials at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources are proposing an expansion of bobcat seasons within the state’s Lower Peninsula.
Michigan DNR has documented stable bobcat populations statewide, and the bobtailed felines have a solid foothold in every county in the state. As a result, the agency has proposed expanding existing seasons on the Lower Peninsula from 11 to 20 days and creating a brand-new, 11-day season in nine counties in the southern portion of the state. Game units on the Upper Peninsula—with their more liberal seasons—will remain unchanged.
Like many wildlife species in Michigan, bobcat populations on the Lower Peninsula plummeted in the late 1800s when a logging boom swept the state. But as habitat has regenerated, connectivity has improved, and today the cats have reclaimed their place in the Great Lake State’s ecosystem.
“In the northern half of the Lower Peninsula, we see bobcat populations that are doing well, even with harvest,” Adam Bump, bear and furbearer specialist for the Michigan DNR, told MeatEater. “We’ve seen occupancy increasing over time. They’re filling in that good habitat wherever it exists.”
According to Bump, the goal of the proposed expansion is to provide more opportunity for hunting and trapping while maintaining the state’s thriving population of bobcats.
“The populations look stable, healthy, and resilient,” he said. “What we’re looking at are some pretty modest increases in opportunity and we’re expanding into an area that has bobcat populations that are connected to everywhere else.”
Bump said that opponents of the proposals have been sounding off, but as of yet, there hasn’t been any organized opposition that could actually prevent the expansions from going forward.
“A representative with the HSUS [Humane Society of the United States] was present at last week’s meeting of the Natural Resources Commission voicing opposition,” he said. “The NRC indicated that they have received calls and emails from people opposed to the idea, but there were also two individuals who presented in favor of the season expansions—one representing a collection of trapping groups and another speaking on behalf of some hunting groups here in Michigan.”
Nick Green is the public information officer for Michigan United Conservation Club. MUCC is Michigan’s largest conservation organization with some 40,000 members statewide. He said his organization supports the proposed expansion of Michigan’s bobcat hunting and trapping seasons. He doesn’t expect substantial opposition to materialize, let alone stand in the way of the proposals going forward.
“We have a good outdoor heritage ethic here,” Green told MeatEater. “We’re a state that was kind of founded on the backs of trappers. Even the people who don’t hunt or fish in our state often approve of the lifestyle. There are always going to be antis, but the foothold they have here just isn’t very strong.”
Michigan’s robust outdoor heritage aside, a small but vocal group of animal rights activists is beginning to voice opposition to the proposed expansion of bobcat seasons on the Lower Peninsula.
In a recent interview with the online media outlet MLive.com, Molly Tamulevich, Michigan director of the Humane Society of the United States, tried to cast doubt on the methodology used by the DNR to determine the stability of the state’s bobcat population—methodology that relies heavily on hunter and trapper harvest data.
“The fact is that the number of dead bobcats has absolutely no bearing on the number of actual live bobcats in Michigan,” Tamulevich told _MLive. _“The bottom line is that the Michigan DNR has no idea how many bobcats are in the state, yet it wants to allow even more of them to be killed—for no other reason than to pander to the demands of a tiny and shrinking minority who want to obtain a trophy or a pelt.”
Standing in stark contrast to Tamulevich’s characterization of bobcat hunters and trappers as a “tiny and shrinking minority” is a recent survey published by the Michigan DNR, “2020 Bobcat Hunter and Trapper Harvest in Michigan.”
This survey shows that 13,472 Michiganders obtained a bobcat harvest tag for the 2020 season. That amounts to a 23% increase from 2019 and a 34% increase from 2018.
For his part, Adam Bump points to the data that his agency has accumulated over the years, data that supports the claim that bobcat populations in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula are strong enough to sustain a modest increase in harvest quotas. At the same time, he rejects the idea that challenges to bobcat hunting or trapping are based on legitimate biological concerns about the long term viability of the species.
“If you look at some of our neighboring states like Illinois or Indiana where bobcat hunting is being challenged, they don’t have population problems,’ Bump said. “The only challenges they have to their seasons are from people that don’t want to see bobcats harvested. They’re not shutting down these seasons because they have biological concerns. It’s more of a response to social pressure.”
The proposal to expand Michigan’s bobcat hunting and trapping seasons will be put to vote at the March 10 meeting of the Natural Resources Commission. NRC meetings are streamed live on the Michigan United Conservation Club’s Facebook page.