UNDERSTANDING BOBCATS IN THE GRANITE STATE: A cooperative project led by the University of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department

 

Management History

The table below provides an overview of our efforts to manage bobcats in New Hampshire for the past 200 years. Clearly, our historical relationship with bobcats was based on incomplete knowledge and a sense that these animals limited game and livestock populations. Bounties were used to encourage hunters and trappers to kill bobcats and other predators, including wolves.

Management of Bobcats in New Hampshire, 1809 - Present.

Period Management Activity
1809 –1828 No closed season, $3 bounty per bobcat, repealed in 1829.
1829 – 1831 No closed season, no bounty.
1832 – 1895 No closed season, $1 bounty per bobcat, repealed in 1895.
1896 – 1914 No closed season, no bounty.
1915 – 1918 No closed season, $2 bounty per bobcat.
1919 – 1921 No closed season, $5 bounty per bobcat.
1922 No closed season, $10 bounty per bobcat.
1923 – 1926 No closed season, $20 bounty per bobcat.
1927 – 1928 No closed season, $10 bounty per bobcat.
1929 – 1960 No closed season, $20 bounty per bobcat.
1961 – 1965 No closed season, bounty varied from $10 - $20. End of township-based bounty program.
1966 – 1967 No closed season, no funds appropriated for state-based bounty program.
1968 – 1973 No closed season, state-based bounty program varied from $10 to $20 per bobcat. Bounty program terminated in 1973.
1974 – 1976 Regulated hunting and trapping seasons.
1977 – 1979 Hunting and trapping seasons closed.
1980 – 1988 Hunting and trapping seasons re-established. Periodic closure of both seasons in portions of southeastern New Hampshire.
1989 – Present Hunting and trapping seasons closed.

Although it was occasionally repealed and then reinstated, the bounty on bobcats existed from 1809 to 1973.

Two hunters that probably killed four bobcats in one week. This picture provides an impression of how abundant bobcats once were in New Hampshire. We don't know exactly when or where the picture was taken - we're guessing about 1950. Does anyone recognize these two gentlemen?

Annual harvests submitted for payment varied tremendously, especially during the early 1900s. However, there was an abrupt increase from 1915 to 1930 when harvests rose from 93 to 358. They remained relatively high and eventually peaked at 421 in 1959.

But even more surprising than the rapid increase in abundance was the rapid decline. Only 25 bobcats were submitted for bounty payment in 1966. By 1970, payment was made on only 10 bobcats and the program was terminated in 1973.

A 200-year summary of bobcat harvest in New Hampshire. Such information is quite rare, and it gives us a better understanding about the animal today.

So, what might have been responsible for the apparent rise and subsequent fall among bobcat populations in New Hampshire? There are several possible explanations. First, trapper harvests can be influenced by commercial demand for fur. However, the value of bobcat pelts in New Hampshire and elsewhere was consistently low until the mid 1970s – usually less than $10. Prices increased rapidly until the mid 1980s when some pelts sold for more than $100. However, this rise in commercial value happened after the sharp decline in harvests and pelt value does not explain why populations increased in the early 1900s.

There is some speculation that expanding populations of coyotes had a detrimental effect on bobcats within the state. Bobcats and coyotes are known to consume similar prey. so the potential for competition is there. But again, much of the decline in bobcat numbers occurred in the early 1960s before coyotes were abundant.

The final explanation may be the most revealing. Using simple models of forest succession, we have found that the abundance of young forests in New Hampshire followed a pattern similar to the abundance of bobcats. Until the late 1800s, more than 50% of the state was cleared for agricultural fields. At that time, transportation systems enabled farmers in the Midwest to get their goods to eastern markets. As a result, New England farmers could no longer compete and many farms were abandoned. As these cleared fields grew into shrublands and young forests, a number of wildlife species became more abundant. Ruffed grouse, woodcock, and New England cottontails reached their greatest densities ever in the early 1900s and bobcats likely benefited from the abundance of prey. In time, these forests matured and game populations thinned. Our models indicated that much of the productive game habitat was declining rapidly by 1960. Because the abundance of young forests explains both the rapid rise and rapid decline of bobcat populations, it seems to be the most logical factor responsible for the patterns we have observed.

So, what happened next to bobcats. The bounty program was terminated in 1973 and in response to high prices, the hunting and trapping seasons were closed from 1977 through 1979. Seasons were re-opened in 1980, but portions of the state were periodically closed to any harvests. By 1989, it seemed that bobcats were still at a fairly low level of abundance and all harvests were stopped. Now, after 20 years of protection, have their populations rebounded? Numerous observations by hunters, trappers, and naturalists seem to indicate that this is the case. With our project, we plan to determine how well they have responded to protection.

 

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