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Bobcat Population Healthy, Growing: DNR


MINOCQUA – The state’s bobcat population is robust and growing, according to two specialists from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources who recently briefed the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board (NRB) on the elusive creature.

“Bobcats are a conservation success story,” said Nathan Roberts, furbearer and carnivore research scientist. “A conservation success story that’s been seen across the country, and especially visible here in Wisconsin. “They are common and doing well in Wisconsin,” he said. Their numbers were about 3,500 in the northern zone in 2016. There hasn’t been enough research done yet to give the DNR a clear population picture in the southern zone.

Roberts said his research indicates about 1 million bobcats were in the lower 48 states in 1981. In 2008, the population was estimated at 3.5 million. “All indications are that population has continued to grow since then,” he said. He and Shawn Rossler, another furbearer specialist with the DNR, reported their findings to the NRB members meeting at The Waters of Minocqua, in Minocqua on Wednesday, Sept. 27th.

There are more of the elusive creatures around than the public realizes, Roberts said. Bobcats are most active around dusk, dawn and nighttime. “They use almost any type of habitat in Wisconsin.” With the exception of Florida, the bobcat population is either stable or growing in each of the lower 48 states. From 1867 to 1964, bounties were paid for bobcats in Wisconsin. Prior to 1970 there was no protection for bobcats, and their taking was unregulated. From 1970 to 2013, regulated harvest of bobcats took place in the northern half of the state. In 2014, the first regulated bobcat season took place in the southern zone. Rossler noted that bobcats have become a “trophy species” for Wisconsin hunters and trappers.

More than 15,000 people annually apply for one of the harvest tags. Consequently, there’s been a three-fold increase the last decade in wait time to get a permit. This year marks the fourth consecutive year in modern history of statewide bobcat harvest in Wisconsin. Roberts said all indications are that the bobcat population will continue to grow in Wisconsin. But the elusive nature of the bobcat makes it “a challenging species to monitor,” Roberts said, adding the department partners with hunters and trappers to monitor bobcats. “We work closely with trappers to allow us to collar bobcats they caught that they do not wish to keep or cannot keep.Over the last three years we put GPS collars on 61 bobcats. That sample size is unheard of for a species like bobcats.” GPS collaring together with other research monitoring, such as trail cameras, end of season surveys and carcass inspections, “help us put together a picture of how bobcats are doing in our state,” Roberts said.

Among their research findings: bobcats have a smaller home range than expected; low harvest rate; low natural mortality rates; harvest skewed to males; and very high female survivorship rates. Rossler said the department increased the harvest quota to 750 animals statewide this year. The northern zone was allotted 550 permits; the southern zone 200. “We have grown our understanding of the population,” Roberts said, in response to be a board member’s question of increasing quotas even more. “We can provide additional harvest opportunities while ensuring stability for the population. “The state of our bobcat in our state is excellent.”

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