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Some worry bobcat hunting could put animal on endangered list in Illinois

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(The Center Square) – For 40 years, bobcats were on the endangered species list in Illinois. Bobcat hunting was illegal. That changed six years ago when the Illinois Department of Natural Resources decided to allow the sport hunting of bobcats for the first time in many Illinois hunters’ memories.

Permits to hunt bobcats are wildly popular. Last year 7,000 hunters bought $5 lottery tickets for a chance to win one of the 1,000 legal permits to hunt bobcats.

Jennifer Kuroda, founder of the Illinois Bobcat Foundation, said the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has not issued a comprehensive report on the number of bobcats in the state. And they have not published a plan for managing the bobcat population, she said.

“I’d be curious what their estimates are saying … what their surveys are saying,” Kuroda said.

Kuroda would like data on the age and sex of the bobcats that are taken, she said.

“Females are so important to the population and the sustainability of the species,” she said. “I’d like to see that data.”

One unofficial estimate that was floated a few years ago is that there were about 5,000 bobcats in the state. Meanwhile, in the past six years, Illinois hunters have killed 1,802 bobcats. Kuroda questions how IDNR can justify such a high bobcat kill number. The same activities that made bobcats a threatened species 50 years ago are now being encouraged by IDNR, she said.

“DNR is really catering to the hunting constituency, not the conservation constituency,” Kuroda said.

The state’s digest for hunting and trapping says taking bobcats “is prohibited in an area bounded by Interstate 39/Route 51 on the west side and U.S. Route 36 on the south side.”

“Bobcats, like white-tailed deer, wild turkey, river otter, and beaver made remarkable recoveries as habitat quantity and quality improved and conservation strategies were implemented by wildlife managers,” IDNR’s digest says. “Much of this work was funded by hunters and trappers through license fees and the Pittman-Robertson Act, which taxes sporting goods, firearms, and ammunition. Funds are used for wildlife conservation including: research, habitat improvements, and acquisition of habitat.”

Feb. 15 was the last day of the 2023-24 bobcat hunting season. Hunters and trappers killed 370 bobcats. That’s up from 367 killed last year. Jo Daviess County in northwestern Illinois recorded the most bobcats taken this past season, a total of 19. Pike County is also known for bobcat hunting.

Fifty-five percent of the bobcats taken this past season were killed by hunters. Trappers killed 40%. Roadkill accounted for the rest.

Kuroda wonders what the point of a bobcat hunt. People don’t eat bobcat meat. Bobcats are not a threat to children, livestock, or game birds. Game bird numbers are declining in Illinois because of loss of habitat, not because bobcats are killing them, Kuroda said.

Bobcats are small. An average bobcat weighs 18 to 25 pounds. They don’t make impressive trophies. The price of a bobcat pelt is only about $40.

“Bobcats are secretive and illusive. They are probably fun to hunt,” Kuroda said. “But it makes me angry every time I think about it.”

As a scientist, Kuroda believes that bobcats are a sign of a healthy ecosystem. Bobcats mainly eat rodents. They help keep rodent populations in check.

“In a healthy ecosystem, predators and prey balance things out,” she said.

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