Friday, March 23, 2012

Phil Brown: Bobcat Plan Stirs Public Ire

The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has received about 1,200 letters, e-mails, and online comments from people who object to a plan to permit more hunting and trapping of bobcats. Only about 300 people wrote to support the plan.

That works out to 80 percent in opposition, 20 percent in favor.

If this were an election, it would be a landslide. But when it comes to public policy, the majority does not always win. DEC will review the comments and may make some changes, but I doubt it will abandon the plan altogether, despite the pleas of animal-rights advocates. The department is expected to finalize the plan later this spring or in the summer.

DEC solicited public comments in January after releasing the draft of a five-year plan for managing the state’s bobcat population. The biggest change is that hunting and trapping bobcats would be allowed in large portions of central New York and the state’s Southern Tier. In the Adirondacks, the trapping season would be extended two months to coincide with the hunting season (October 15 to February 15).

After the comment period ended in March, the Adirondack Explorer received a digital copy of the comments from DEC (after filing a freedom-of-information request).

DEC received just twenty-two handwritten letters. The rest of the comments arrived via e-mail or online posts. Many of the electronic comments, on both sides, were duplicative and clearly were sent as part of an organized campaign. For example, hundreds of e-mails had the subject line “Stop Bobcat Hunting and Trapping in New York.” Most of these contained identical or similar language. Many of them came from outside the state, including foreign countries.

Wendy Rosenbach, a DEC spokeswoman, said the department gives equal weight to comments regardless of whether they were sent in a letter or an e-mail. But she added that the agency is more interested in substantial criticisms than mere expressions of support or opposition.

“Just because somebody’s against it doesn’t mean we’ll throw the whole plan out,” Rosenbach said.

Many opponents are especially outraged that DEC proposes to allow more trapping. One writer called steel leg-hold traps “an inhumane and vicious way to kill animals. Animals that are caught in these traps will sometimes live for many hours in extreme pain before they die.”

Cruel or not, trapping is permitted under state Environmental Conservation Law. “Trapping is a recreational activity that’s taken place in New York for many years,” Rosenbach said. “My sense is we won’t make a change to say no trapping.”

Bobcats are sought for their fur or as trophies. Many people, even some hunters, object to such “sport killing.” Critics also point out that the reclusive cats are rarely seen in the wild. If more bobcats are killed, they say, people will have even fewer chances to see them.

“I am almost eighty years old and have hunted most of life and have never seen a bobcat in the wild,” wrote one man. “A lot of our wildlife have disappeared. Do not let the bobcat become the next victim.”

DEC says the bobcat population has been growing and can withstand additional hunting and trapping. Those who favor the agency’s proposal contend that the arguments of the animal-rights advocates are largely based on emotion. The following sentence appeared in numerous e-mails: “Please do not let these misguided ‘animal rights’ groups, nor political pressure from those seeking to advance their careers, stand in the way of sound biology and science.”

For more details on the bobcat plan, click here to see my earlier Almanack post.

You can find the full plan on DEC’s website by clicking here.

Bobcat photo by Larry Master.

Phil Brown

Phil Brown

Since 1999, Phil Brown has been Editor of the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack.

Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing.

He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.

Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.


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9 Responses

  1. Dave says:

    Why ask for public input if you are just going to ignore it?

    It would be one thing if this was a case of the science leading them in a direction that is opposite public opinion… but that isn’t the case here.

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  2. el boti says:

    I missed the whole inquiry thing from the state .Public opnion needs to be taken under advisement as is stated in the article but should not be used to write the law. Bioligists hunters and other professionals have a much better idea of whats going in the real world then our armchair activists that sit around pushing the remote to change tv channels looking for the extremist view.If the bobcats were endangered I am sure the season would be shortened,but that is not the case . I spend a lot of time hunting and trapping in the woods . There is much sign of these animals . Perhaps these bleeding heart liberals should be concerned about the next presidential campaign as we see were public opinion took us last time. I wish people would put as much interest/effort into feeding the starving children /people of the world as they did trying to save cats,dogs and wildlife.

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  3. brsacjab says:

    Well said el boti. The Bobcat passes the “cute test” due to similarities to a house cat. So it’s easy to get ignorant well meaning people to write. Based on recent years though, the DEC ignores public comments anyway, it’s just considered a paperwork exercise.

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  4. ScottyJack says:

    Bobcats eat wild piglets!

    trappers should trap wild pigs instead of bobcats!

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  5. Larry Master says:

    I hope this is not the case in New York, but many state wildlife management agencies in this country have been criticized as operating in ways that largely exclude the public from meaningful participaton, “avoiding consideration of ethics, public attitudes, and values by deeming such concerns as unscientific and contrary to traditional approaches to wildlife management.” These traditional approaches lead to divisiveness instead of cooperative problem solving. (Witness what is happening with wolf management in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.) These agencies should create processes that encourage inclusion – where people are heard, their values are considered, and they have a meaningful say in policy decisions. This is especially true in regards to carnivore (bobcat, coyote, cougar and wolf in the West) management.

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  6. Pete Klein says:

    The DEC is a lot like the DOT. They don’t care what the public wants.

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  7. Paul says:

    I agree that I don’t care to see more Bobcats taken but I also think that when you look at public comment that you have to consider the “squeaky wheel factor”. People that are upset with a proposal are much less likely to comment than those that are fine with it. Not sure how you deal with that issue?

    Phil, what is your opinion? Was there any motivation to stir the pot here?

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  8. Paul says:

    Sorry, correction. “People that are upset with a proposal are much MORE likely to comment than those that are fine with it”

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  9. Used2BSven says:

    Longer Bobcat season, prices possible of $500 per or more means many, many, more Marten and Fischer will be taken. Sets for all are the same but Bobcats are scarce. More traps were put out for cats and filled with Marten and Fischer. Poor management plan once again by the DEC.

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