Many of the once great wildcats of North America have been persecuted to extinction or have had their numbers dramatically decreased. In my previous post, “Lynx rufus: Our Resilient Bobcat,” I explained how the Bobcat has persevered in our region; however, some are pushing to begin or extend killing seasons on this predator who plays an important role in the wild.
Bobcats’ Ecological Role in our Ecosystem
Bobcats play important ecological roles in forest ecosystems. They are effective predators of rodents and rabbits, helping hold in check numbers of these and other herbivores. Bobcats occasionally take deer, usually weak ones, at a time when over-browsing by deer (who have lost their main natural predators, Cougars and Wolves) threatens to degrade our Eastern Deciduous Forest.
In general, persecution of carnivores is wrong, again for ecological and ethical reasons. Carnivores generally reproduce slowly, have few natural predators, and are intelligent animals with complex social organizations. Most parts of our country suffer from too many herbivores and too few predators. We should be protecting, not persecuting, our remaining predators, and studying how to restore those we’ve eradicated.
The once-eradicated predators of the Northeast include the Bobcat’s more boreal cousin, the Canada Lynx (Lynx canadensis), and its imperiled status is another reason why allowing the killing of Bobcats, by guns or traps, is wrong. Bobcats and Lynx look much alike; and sport hunters or trappers can easily kill Lynx thinking they are killing Bobcat.
Lynx have survived in northern Maine and have been seen in recent years in northern New Hampshire and Vermont. Combined with climate warming, a killing season on Bobcats could doom long-term viability of Lynx (which primarily prey on Snowshoe Hares and need cold snowy winters to thrive) in our region, and make extremely unlikely their recolonization of the Adirondacks.
A Lifetime Thrill: Backtracking a Beautiful Bobcat
Moreover, Bobcats are just plain beautiful! Like all conservationists, I hope people will value wildlife for its natural beauty and intrinsic value. Even if some must look at wildlife and wild places through a utilitarian lens, though, protecting Bobcats makes sense. They are worth more for wildlife watching and tracking opportunities than they are as pelts or meat.
Rare and lucky is the person who more than occasionally catches a fleeting glimpse of this gorgeous cat – but what a lifetime’s thrill that is; and how much easier to humbly backtrack a Bobcat on a frozen swamp, reading the hunter’s story in prints, how she investigates Muskrat lodges, down logs, snags, and anywhere else she may find a vole or mouse or rabbit to catch for her hungry kittens.
[Special thanks to Lake Placid based nature conservation photographer Larry Master (www.masterimages.org) for permission to feature several of his photographs in this post.]
Note: The content in this blog post was repurposed and a revised version is included in John Davis’s book Split Rock Wildway: Scouting the Adirondack Park’s Most Diverse Wildlife Corridor published by Essex Editions on Nov. 21, 2017. Learn more about the book and where to buy it at essexeditions.com. Watch the book trailer below.