Bobcats are still doing well across Pennsylvania, according to biologists.
She was certainly a wanderer.
This past fall, a trapper – working not far from the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s headquarters building in Dauphin County – caught a bobcat with an ear tag. It was outside the season, so he took its picture and turned it loose.
But he contacted the commission, curious about the tag.
“We had no explanation for this,” said Matt Lovallo, game mammals section supervisor for the agency.
The tag did not match any of those used by the commission as part of its research over the past decade.
The mystery might have remained unsolved except that the exact same bobcat was caught again, by a different trapper on an adjacent property, later in the year. It was bobcat season, so he kept the animal.
That allowed the commission to get a look at the tag.
“We later learned that the bobcat was caught two years earlier as a 15-pound yearling and subsequently dispersed westward about 175 kilometers, or 180 linear miles, Lavallo said.
Typically, males are prone to such wandering, Lovallo added. This bobcat, though, was a female.
What’s most notable is how far the cat went – Lovallo called it a “testament to the dispersal capacity of these mid-sized carnivores” — and where it ended up.
“It really brings home the point that there’s nowhere in Pennsylvania that a bobcat can’t get to if the habitat is suitable,” Lovallo added.
That’s being proven elsewhere.
Bobcat populations are expanding geographically, it seems. Game Commission data suggests the animals are moving into new portions of the northwestern and southeastern regions of the state.
That could lead to harvest opportunities in new areas in the future, Lovallo said.
At the same time, though, reductions in bobcat hunting and trapping seasons could come elsewhere.
This year’s bobcat trapping harvest was 510 animals, according to the commission. That was down from 728 the year before and 838 the year before that.
Bob hunting harvests are still being figured. But as of late January, it stood at about 120, compared to 305 the year before and 294 the year before that.
That doesn’t suggest things are in “crisis mode,” Lovallo said. But it does appear that populations are stabilizing if not decreasing in places.
“If we see this continued decline in harvest rate, and our other indices continue to suggest subsequent declines in some areas of the state, we may ask the board at that time to consider for the 2018-19 season looking at a reduction in season length,” Lovallo said.
That may be just in certain wildlife management units, he added.
For this coming fall and winter, though, he’s recommending seasons identical to what’s come before.