The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has paused plans to allow bobcat hunting and trapping in Dubuque County in response to negative public feedback.
Earlier this year, the state agency solicited comments as it considered adding Delaware, Dubuque and Jones counties to the list of areas where those with fur harvester licenses would be able to take one bobcat per season.
The state Natural Resource Commission recently approved adding Delaware and Jones counties to the list of 55 Iowa counties where it is already legal. Dubuque County was taken out of consideration.
If the Administrative Rules Review Committee in the Legislature does not object, the new rules will go into effect July 21 ahead of the next fur harvest season, which runs from Nov. 7 to Jan. 31.
Bobcats originally were native to Iowa, but they were mostly wiped out by human settlement and loss of woodsy habitat by the early 1900s. They were protected as an endangered species in the state by 1977. But officials saw the cats return in the 1990s, and their populations continue to climb.
About 5,000 to 8,000 bobcats now live in Iowa, according to recent wildlife surveys.
During the recent public comment period regarding the proposed expansion of hunting into Dubuque County, the DNR received 23 comments — 20 in opposition.
“We don’t want to push through a bobcat season for Dubuque County if residents aren’t ready,” said Vince Evelsizer, DNR furbearer and wetland biologist.
In three letters from the public shared by Evelsizer with the Telegraph Herald, residents wrote about how they believed there are still too few bobcats in the area to justify a hunting season.
The DNR describes a regulated bobcat season as “biologically responsible.” Evelsizer said data collected from past bobcat harvests in the southern part of the state indicate that a diverse range of the animals were killed — an indication that hunting is not preventing the animals from breeding or living to old age.
Though bobcats might threaten chicken coops or small pets, they don’t pose serious threats to human safety.
“We can easily live with bobcats on our landscape,” Evelsizer said.
He called bobcats a “wildlife success story.” The species almost disappeared entirely from the state due to overhunting and destruction of habitat caused by European and American settlement in the 1800s and 1900s.
Over the past few decades, bobcats have returned to Iowa with numbers increasing first in the southern part of the state.
In 2007, Iowa decided to once again allow hunting and trapping in certain counties. The bobcat harvest zone expanded to include Jackson County in the 2018-19 season.
Last year, 18 bobcats were killed in Jackson County. Evelsizer said that because Dubuque County has a similar habitat, 15 to 25 bobcats might be killed annually if added to the harvest zone.
He estimates the bobcat population in Jackson County ranges from 150 to 250, adding that Dubuque County likely has a similar population. Evelsizer estimated the population is slightly lower in Jones and Delaware counties.
Evelsizer said that from the letters, emails and phone calls that the department received, it seemed as though some believed that allowing hunting and trapping might lead to the disappearance of bobcats in the area.
“We have no intent on wiping out the bobcat population,” he said. “It was a really big surprise, the amount of negative comments. It’s disappointing residents would think that was what we were trying to do.”
In several opposition comments, writers didn’t just talk of losing the bobcat — they also expressed confusion as to why someone would want to kill a bobcat in the first place.
Rick Mihm was one of the people who provided feedback. Mihm, who lives in Dubuque County, said he will never forget the time he saw a bobcat in the Four Mounds area many years ago. He hasn’t seen one since.
“Who would want to get rid of them?” Mihm asked.
Bobcats are elusive animals that avoid humans and hunt at dusk and dawn, so few people see them. Instead, many bobcat sightings occur when one crosses the path of a game camera, is struck by a car or stumbles into a trap meant for another animal.
The Dubuque County Conservation Department often shares footage of bobcats with the state department, said Executive Director Brian Preston.
Preston characterized the DNR bobcat season proposal as conservative and said he was surprised Dubuque County wasn’t approved. He said his department will work alongside the DNR to educate the public about bobcats.
Preston hasn’t ever seen a bobcat in the wild, but he knows they are out there.
“I can remember seeing bobcat tracks and hearing them as a youth,” Preston said. “... I would love to see them. It’s just a matter of time, I think.”
Evelsizer said though the Dubuque County proposal has been tabled, the department will propose a bobcat season again in the future if the numbers in the county continue to grow.
“It won’t always come down to a tally of comments to make a decision either,” he said in an email. “However, this is a case where we listened to folks and believe they’re misunderstanding our intent with proposing this season for Dubuque County.”