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Bring Back The Bobcat?

Publication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press
By Mike Bottini   Jan 30, 2012 4:50 PM
Feb 6, 2012 5:02 PM

Last week I received an e-mail from a colleague, Mindy Block, who pointed out that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation had just released its draft “Bobcat Management Plan,” and was seeking public comment on it. Mindy attached the document and wrote, “There was always talk of having them reintroduced onto Long Island. Does this make any sense to you? Is the idea worth pursuing for Long Island? Like the wild turkey reintroductions?”

That’s an interesting question. On the one hand, wildlife reintroductions can provide opportunities to restore a region’s ecological diversity. It can also help restore the ecological integrity and balance in regions such as Long Island where, it can be argued, there is a dearth of medium-to-large-sized predators. Anyone familiar with the ecological impacts of our predator-free deer herd can attest to that.

On the other hand, well thought-out and executed reintroductions can be expensive, labor-intensive projects.

As one of several wildlife biologists from Long Island who recently met with the DEC’s Long Island regional director, Peter Scully, concerning that state agency’s strong focus on upstate regions, and its apparent lack of interest in Long Island’s wildlife challenges and opportunities, I was curious if the report might include any mention of the island at all.

Well, we did make it into the document. There are two references. One on Page 6 under “Background” states: “The bobcat (

Lynx rufus

) is a North American member of the cat family

Felida

e, ranging from southern Canada to northern Mexico, including most of the continental United States. The species is found throughout most of New York State, except for Long Island.”

I think, as background, it should have mentioned that Long Island was once home to this interesting mammal.

In his 1842 publication, “The Zoology of New York,” James E. DeKay writes that the bobcat was apparently so numerous in Suffolk County in 1712 that the General Assembly enacted bounty payments to encourage hunting them, and this act was renewed in 1745. Bounties, the fur trade, and habitat destruction eliminated this species from many parts of its original range, as was the case here on Long Island by the time Mr. DeKay’s work was published.

Many northern New York State counties still paid bounties on bobcats until 1971, when a state law was approved prohibiting the practice. At that time, there were three populations in New York: one centered in the Adirondacks, another in the Catskills, and a third in the Taconic Mountains of southeastern New York.

Today their population has expanded to include parts of Westchester County, Connecticut and New Jersey.

There is also a reference to Long Island on Page 12 that reads, “Strategy 1.4: No monitoring planned for the No Bobcat Area. Bobcats are not currently known to exist on Long Island (WMU Aggregate: Coastal Lowland), and due to its relative isolation from adjacent populations, it is unlikely that bobcats will occur there naturally. DEC has no plans to establish a bobcat population in this area, so a closed season will be maintained and no monitoring is planned.”

Since this is a statewide, long-term management plan, why not at least examine the feasibility of establishing a bobcat population in this area? There are several facts about bobcats that would support bringing them back to Long Island. One is their ability to cope well with a fragmented landscape and utilize a wide variety of habitats, including the mosaic of forest, agricultural fields, wetlands and dunes found here. Studies have shown that bobcats can use patches of habitat if those patches provide enough prey and are linked to other patches by some type of greenbelt. And, according to the U.S. Federal Wildlife Service website, “Bobcats show little or no aversion to human dwellings or equipment.”

They are top-of-the-food-chain carnivores, but will shift among a wide variety of prey sizes and species depending upon availability. The bulk of the bobcat’s diet is composed of smaller mammals, from opossums down to mice, with rabbits and squirrels being favorite fares. Hunting success depends on its keen senses of sight and hearing; smell plays a minor role for the feline. And in case you’re wondering, there are no reported attacks on Homo sapiens.

Two other prey items are worth mentioning. The most commonly reported predator of turkey hens is the bobcat and, while adult gobblers, males, are large enough to make them difficult prey for many predators, bobcats are their most commonly reported predator as well. And one could argue that parts of Long Island could use a turkey predator.

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