Researching America’s Smallest Wild Cat

 

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On October 4th, 2017, SCI Foundation kicked off its Wildlife Conservation Webinar Series with the Western U.S. Bobcat Project.  Featuring Dr. Tim Hiller of the Western U.S. Bobcat Project, to the online forum allowed us to listen to one of our research partners tell us first-hand how this project can change the way America views bobcats.  As Dr. Hiller of the Wildlife Ecology Institute has stated, “State agencies need to provide substantial and increasingly technical evidence that harvest is sustainable, and that management decisions are informed and defensible based on the best available evidence.”

Current challenges to bobcat wildlife management are motivated primarily by factors other than science-based research.  In one Washington Post article, it was estimated that a habituated bobcat in Yellowstone National Park brings in more than $300,000 per year in tourist funds, which was used as an argument to stop hunting or trapping bobcats.  In Arizona, an Arizona Republic article states that an animal welfare group is seeking a state initiative banning all hunting and trapping of bobcats with no science to justify this initiative.  These arguments rely on poor or inadequate science, but the Western U.S. Bobcat Project seeks to collect the best-available science to enable responsible wildlife management decisions.

Reconstructing population trends, abundance, and the effects of harvest on populations can be estimated and quantified using contemporary statistical methods.  Currently, 17 western state agencies have been engaged to develop and refine this project to benefit hunters, trappers, and ultimately bobcats.  Not only will aiding hunters and trappers provide support to the agencies responsible for bobcat protection financially, it benefits bobcats by maintaining a high value on them as a natural resource.  Data gathered from multiple sources will also allow wildlife agencies to understand resource selection and predict bobcat population changes.

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Pelt prices for western bobcats have nearly doubled in 20 years, leading to an increase in hunter/trapper cooperation.  However, despite similar levels of harvest, statistics have not been synthesized across multiple states for hunters as has been done for trappers.  This is primarily due to the lack of an effective population model to quantify trends.  The model to be used in this project is the Statistical Population Reconstruction (SPR) model.  On June 2016, a brief questionnaire was submitted to the state fish and wildlife agencies of; Arizona, California, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.  Researchers received a 100% response rate in support of this project.

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Sub-species management, often an idea that some wildlife biologists disagree with, is an important aspect of this project.  However, if you manage bobcats by sub-species based on pelt-value, you can more effectively conserve both. Different subspecies often fetch much different prices per pelt because of the demand for certain color patterns.  Harvest can go up substantially with more of a financial incentive for one subspecies over another, which can affect management efforts.   An example of a two sub-species being priced differently is the western and northwest U.S. bobcats found on opposite sides of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon.  Western bobcats, also called western lynx cat, often have a clear, white-spotted belly rather than the stained or dusty-white belly found on northwestern bobcats.  A clear-belly western lynx pelt will fetch up to $1,000 per pelt, as opposed to a northwestern bobcat pelt worth often just 10-20% of that.  (http://trappingtoday.com/fur-prices-vary-size-species-location/)

SPR - Data Being Used

The SPR has only recently been developed, and has so far been very effective when applied to black bear and mountain lion populations.  Data for the SPR will primarily be attained by the monitoring of license sales, fur taker surveys, and other sources to provide a way to estimate variations in both hunting and trapping activities.  Along with aiding in the policy making with regards to the expansion of sustainable use activities, this project will result in producing a field guide for biologists, hunters, and trappers to assess sex and age classes of bobcats.

Funding from SCI Foundation will be used to first organize and evaluate bobcat data from each state and improve age-estimation.  As this project continues, the data collected will be used to estimate bobcat populations and aide state agencies for making regulatory and other management decisions, such as eventually pushing or the removal of western bobcats from CITES Appendix II.  The findings of this project will be published in a multi-state format and as a long-awaited update to the 1987 book Wild Furbearer Management and Conservation in North America.  Generally called the, “furbearer bible,” the bobcat management chapter will be updated by data from this project and could result in a new book.

In case you missed the webinar, feel free to watch it by clicking above.  Feel free to comment and share this video, and stay tuned for the next project webinar featuring one of our valuable researchers!