News

Fish and Game Department launches bobcat study

Thursday, April 4, 2013

By KATHY CLEVELAND

Staff Writer

MONT VERNON – When the first Europeans came to what is now New England they were amazed by the abundance and variety of animals, including wolves, beaver, moose and mountain lions.

Another one of those animals were bobcats, the spotted felines with stubby tails that can be twice the size of a house cat.

Centuries later these wild cats, after some ups and downs in their population numbers, seem to be thriving and state animal researchers want to learn more about them.

To that end, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department and the University of New Hampshire are conducting a research project called Understanding Bobcats in the Granite State, focusing on their health and movement through the southwest part of the state.

At the Daland Memorial Library last week, Rich Masters, an environmental engineer who volunteers with Fish and Game, gave a presentation on bobcats as part of the program’s educational component.

The state’s research, said Masters, is paid for by the 11 percent tax on firearms, about $5 million a year, money that can only be used for the management of wild birds and mammals, and it will try to determine the best strategies for managing bobcat populations and minimizing conflicts with people.

“Bobcats are an ‘umbrella’ species,” Masters said. “If they are doing well, it is safe to say other species are doing well.”

With the help of volunteer trappers, the researchers capture, tranquilize and record vital signs, then attach radio collars, inject a drug that reverses the tranquilizer and release the animal, a process that takes about 20 minutes.

According to the bobcat project’s website, it will also try to identify important habitat linkages that will enhance land protection efforts, like the Quabbin-to-Cardigan Conservation Collaborative, an effort to conserve the landscape of north-central Massachusetts and western New Hampshire.

During the bobcat project’s first field season, 19 animals were captured and the 12 that were mature had radio collars attached, according to the website’s “Progress” section.

Wolves
and mountain lions

Despite uncontrolled hunting and bounties of $10 and $20 an animal that existed through most of the 19th and 20th centuries, these wild cats are not endangered in New Hampshire, Masters said, or in most of the United States.

Nevertheless they are rarely seen by people because they are well camouflaged and secretive, avoiding human contact whenever possible.

About a dozen people attended the Mont Vernon slide presentation and one of them asked if there was a better way to record data than the heavy collars. Masters said there has been a lot of research on that problem, and someday computer chips might be used.

Bobcats resemble the larger Canadian lynx, a related species, but anyone who sees a bobcat in southern New Hampshire can be confident it is not a lynx. There are very few of these big-pawed cats in the state, and they are all in the far north because they need a heavy snow cover, while bobcats avoid deep snow.

The cats probably have survived so long – they are believed to first appear about 1.8 million years ago – because they are adaptable, and though they seem to prefer rabbits and hares, can eat anything, from an insect to a deer.

Masters’ wide-ranging talk and slide show also touched on other wildlife:

• Hunting bobcats was allowed year-round in the United States until the early 1970s, with a bounty of $10 or $20 per cat to encourage hunters and trappers to kill bobcat and other predators, including wolves.

• After extensive hunting that caused beavers to disappear from New Hampshire, wolves turned to farm animals for prey. Around 1820, local farmers set fire to Mount Monadnock, where they believed wolves to have dens, destroying many trees.

• Whenever anyone talks about wild animals in New Hampshire, the subject of mountain lions always comes up. Masters said there have been some “very reliable” sightings of the large cats in New Hampshire, but “there is no evidence whatsoever” of breeding populations.

Anyone who sees a bobcat in New Hampshire is asked to report the sighting to Fish and Game.

For more information on the bobcat project, or to report a sighting, go to http://mlitvaitis.unh.edu/Research/BobcatWeb/bobcatsigns.htm.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at kcleveland@cabinet.com or at 673-3100, ext. 304.

NOTICE: We use the Facebook commenting system. For more information, read our Comment Policy