Rep. Shane Lindauer, R-Jasper, has filed a bill to create a season for hunting and trapping bobcats in Indiana. A previous attempt to do so by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources met with strong opposition. Dwight Adams, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bobcat hunting in Indiana is the season that has nine lives — or at least two, for now.
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources abandoned its attempt to create a bobcat hunting season last year amid tremendous opposition, but a bill in the state legislature brought the proposal back to life this year.
“This bill was a response to public support I was hearing in Southern Indiana,” said Rep. Shane Lindauer, who authored House Bill 1407. “I would say that the response I got was universally positive, other than when I got to Indy.”
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His bill likely won’t get a committee hearing, according Lindauer, R-Jasper. Still, many of his constituents want a bobcat season, and he will “never say never” to filing another bobcat hunting bill in the future.
While Lindauer heard overwhelming support from his constituents, others around the state — including many hunters — were opposed to the bobcat hunting bill.
“I’m all for a bobcat season in specified areas, but I am not in favor of the legislature taking action on it,” hunter David Engelking said when asked by IndyStar in an online hunter’s forum. “We should trust our DNR and biologists to do what is correct when it comes to the state’s wildlife.”
Many hunters were in favor of the DNR’s attempt to create a bobcat season last year. Still, another hunter said that it is “absolutely wrong of the legislature” to take the authority away from DNR.
“If the legislature is going to make wildlife rules, then why is the DNR needed?” hunter Greg Hopper said in the same forum, adding that many outdoorsmen are against this process.
If the law were passed, problems could arise if bag limits needed to change or eligible counties added or removed — it would take an amendment through the legislature rather than a DNR rule change, which can be a long process.
It was a similar process that legalized captive deer hunting in 2016, after a contentious decade-long debate and long-running court case. DNR wanted captive or “high-fenced” hunting facilities around the state to shut down in efforts to prevent the spread of infectious diseases such as chronic wasting disease.
The owners of fenced hunting preserves challenged DNR’s authority to do so, and the state legislature ultimately passed a law that kept captive deer hunting going. Now it is regulated not by the DNR but the state’s Board of Animal Health.
DNR and wildlife officials say that CWD remains a significant threat.
“When other people come to the table and start to chip away at that authority and power,” said Emily Wood, executive director of the Indiana Wildlife Federation, “then we start to have problems like we do with captive hunting.”
Such concerns raised in previous years and by hunters largely contributed to the bobcat hunting bill being scratched this year, according to Lindauer. The bill was referred to the House’s Committee on Natural Resources, but it has not yet been scheduled for a hearing. Committee Chair Rep. Sean Eberhart told Lindauer it likely wouldn’t be heard.
The bill would have allowed bobcat hunting in counties with more than 30 bobcat sightings reported to the DNR between Jan. 1, 2016, and Dec. 31, 2018. Under that provision, no counties in Indiana would be eligible for bobcat hunting based on the number of sightings reported through the DNR’s mammal sighting form, the agency told IndyStar.
The state agency was considering opening a season in six counties in Southern Indiana when it proposed its rule last year, based on the reports it was hearing from hunters. Some other states including Kentucky, Missouri, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have seasons for bobcats.
Since removing the proposed bobcat season in May 2018, “DNR has not made any efforts, legislatively or through rule making, to advance another proposed bobcat season,” the agency said in a statement to IndyStar.
It continued: “DNR doesn’t have the scientific data to support a sustainable bobcat season.”
That was a concern that many individuals and groups — including the Humane Society of the United States, the Hoosier Environmental Council and the Sierra Club’s Hoosier chapter — expressed during the Commission meetings last year. More than 200 people spoke at public hearings and nearly 3,000 public comments were submitted during that process, the majority in opposition.
The DNR, however, maintained that it had reports and anecdotal evidence to support a season. When asked why DNR moved forward with its proposal last year despite not having sufficient data, the agency said: “We stand by our previous comment.”
The Indiana State Director of the U.S. Humane Society said it would have been unwise to open up a season on “such a vulnerable species without scientific data to back it up.” The bobcat is Indiana’s only native wild cat and was recognized as an endangered species in the state until 2005.
“This is a species that is not causing a problem,” said Erin Huang with the Humane Society. “Livestock predation is rare and there are no reported attacks on pets, so I just don’t see a reason for it.”
Opening a season — whether through the DNR attempt or the current legislation — is putting the cart before the horse without a formal study, according Wood.
She said it does seem like the population is coming back, but it can be difficult to do a study because the bobcat is elusive and hard to count.
That is the same reason why the Center for Wildlife Ethics said that using reported bobcat sightings is a poor measure to determine where bobcats can be hunted.
“Let’s start with the simple, and the simple is that reported sightings are a far cry from science,” the center’s Executive Director Laura Nirenberg said. “They can be imagined, mistaken or duplicative.”
The DNR has expressed little interest in looking into creating another season in the immediate future, “especially after what they went through last year,” according to Wood with the Wildlife Federation.
“I think the DNR did a great thing last year when it pressed pause because people said they didn’t want our resources and the bobcats managed that way,” she said.
Lindauer said he is inclined to side with Eberhart in his decision not to move the bill forward at this time. Still, he said his constituents in Southern Indiana continue to report increased numbers and feel there are enough animals to be managed.
It remains to be seen, he said, if bobcat hunting in Indiana will get a third life in the future.
After hundreds spoke at meetings and thousands submitted comments, the Indiana DNR withdrew its proposals to allow bobcat hunting and require animal control workers euthanize ‘nuisance wildlife.’ Sarah Bowman, email@example.com
Call IndyStar reporter Sarah Bowman at 317-444-6129 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook: @IndyStarSarah. Connect with IndyStar’s environmental reporters: Join The Scrub on Facebook.