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.