Defying Strong Public Opposition, Legislators Push For Bobcat Hunting Season in Indiana

As expected, a bobcat hunting/trapping bill (House Bill 1407) has been introduced in the Indiana General Assembly.

The language of the proposed bill defines a county “eligible” for a bobcat season as one that has surpassed a minimum of thirty (30) reported bobcat sightings received by the “department” for two consecutive years between Jan. 1, 2016 and Dec. 31, 2018.

Whether these reported bobcat sightings were real, mistaken, duplicative, or fraudulent is apparently of no importance. Verification by IDNR is not required. The only requirement was that someone reported a sighting to the department.

John Morrison Photography

John Morrison Photography

The window for reporting bobcat sightings is officially over, and surely IDNR has already tallied the handful of statewide sighting reports it has received. Yet,  HB 1407 fails to disclose which counties qualify for a bobcat hunting/trapping season.

According to the bill’s primary author, Rep. Lindauer’s office, the bobcat season is necessary because of “nuisance” concerns including livestock depredation and property loss.

These concerns, even if legitimate, fail to justify an open bobcat season.

This bill indiscriminately targets all bobcats in eligible counties merely for being present—by definition ignoring whether they’ve been a so-called “nuisance” or were just unlucky enough to be spotted in an eligible county.

Furthermore, Indiana law (312 IAC 9-10-11) already addresses “nuisance” concerns. According to IDNR:

Conflicts between bobcats and livestock are rare, but landowners may request a nuisance wildlife permit from the DNR for bobcats in the rare instance that damage is occurring.” 

As readers of this blog may also recall, IDNR, the agency entrusted with gathering data surrounding bobcats, issued, and then later removed from the Internet, its own bobcat FAQ sheet that reiterates nuisance complaints are in fact rare: 

We get very few reports of bobcats being a nuisance of causing damage”.

This, of course, begs the questions then, why would a statute be needed if complaints are minimal and problematic bobcats can already be legally controlled?

Follow the money.

House Bill 1407 proposes a recreational bobcat hunting/trapping  season.

Recreational hunting/trapping and “nuisance” control are two distinct activities, each serving an entirely different purpose and governed by separate licenses and regulations. These distinct activities are also guided by different methodologies and articulated objectives.

The problem for IDNR and bobcat hunting proponents is that managing perceived “nuisance” bobcats under the authority of a wild animal control permit generates no revenue. IDNR does not charge a fee for this permit and the property owner or his/her agent assigned to kill the targeted animal, is prohibited from selling, gifting, trading or bartering animals taken.

The bill’s coauthors, Representatives Bacon, Lindauer, and Bartels, are the same elected officials who hosted, along with the IDNR, at least one closed-door meeting exclusively for hunting and trapping proponents for the purpose of discussing a recreational bobcat season.

This October 2018 meeting came on the heels of the NRC Secretary’s motion to the Indiana Natural Resources Commission (“NRC”) to withdraw a similar bobcat hunting/trapping season proposal (LSA Document #17-436, April 17, 2018) following intense public opposition.

According to the unedited notes from the October 2018 closed-door meeting, “50 plus” supporters of consumptive use (i.e., hunting, trapping, etc.) were in attendance. Any shortcomings on the part of IDNR to satisfy the “more than thirty (30) bobcat sightings” per county threshold to qualify a county for bobcat hunting eligibility was likely easily remedied during this meeting alone.

House Bill 1407 has been deliberately tailored to advance IDNR’s failed agenda of establishing yet another predator killing season. If adopted as proposed, this bill will enable the “director” to circumvent all future public input on this issue while simultaneously flipping a middle finger to those who showed up in force to oppose a similar measure in May of 2018.

Dodging public input is a pattern and practice of IDNR. And the Indiana legislature seems far too willing to intervene to push IDNR’s agenda regardless of how ill-conceived it may be.

If a recreational bobcat hunting season is established, bobcat hunters will be able to hunt these animals with packs of hounds. Additionally, there is nothing that would legally preclude these animals from being targeted during predator competition kills, similar to the coyote and fox killing derbies currently held in Indiana.

House Bill 1407 leaves no doubt as to what was behind those dark meetings hosted by the Indiana legislators and IDNR. The only unknown at this point is whether the public is willing to tolerate its legislators and state agencies abusing their power and utterly ignoring the resounding opposition Hoosiers clearly expressed.

Comments may be sent to Rep. Lindauer at: h63@iga.in.gov.

 


Will Indiana DNR ignore public opposition and pursue bobcat hunting legislation?

Following intense public outcry, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”) Director, Cameron Clark, withdrew a proposal for a bobcat hunting season from the agency’s biennial rule package in May, 2018. Nonetheless, DNR’s subsequent actions strongly suggest the agency has not given up on this proposition. 

In November, CWE submitted a letter to Indiana’s Governor Holcomb, urging him to address DNR’s latest efforts to mobilize hunters and trappers and lobby politicians for a bobcat hunting bill during the upcoming 2019 legislative session. CWE contends that the closed-door meeting, co-hosted by DNR, was meant as a workaround to the public’s opposition to the bobcat season in DNR’s rule package.

Photo: Zanesville Times Recorder

Photo: Zanesville Times Recorder

Presumably in response to CWE’s letter to the Governor, CWE received a carefully-worded response from DNR claiming that the agency “…has not hosted any meetings to advance another proposed bobcat season”.

For argument sake, let’s just ignore that this statement conflicts with Indiana Representative Ron Bacon’s letter that clearly states Representatives and DNR “will be hosting a meeting to discuss implementing a bobcat season.”

DNR’s other point is deliberately misleading. Yes, DNR will not be “proposing” another bobcat season via its rulemaking process. As we know, the agency’s attempts to promulgate a bobcat hunting/trapping rule failed.

The agency’s carefully worded form letters, similar to its wildlife policy, are routinely vague and contrived by communication specialists skilled at perfecting controversial messages while avoiding any political hot buttons.

And, speaking of “political hot buttons”, as subscribers may recall, “harvesting bobcats”, was one of the issues initially scheduled on the agenda for DNR’s Communication Workshop on October 30, 2018. This topic was removed from the agenda soon after CWE’s Director formally registered for this course and replaced with sand hill crane hunting.

Call To Action for Indiana Bobcats

Indiana citizens who went to great lengths to submit comments and attend public hearings to vocalize opposition to IDNR’s rule package (#17-436), rightfully feel betrayed by the latest news of IDNR’s upcoming workshop and recent meeting with hunters and trappers apparently meant to garner support for the implementation of a bobcat hunting and trapping season. This, despite the Department’s recent public announcement that the agency would not adopt a bobcat season.

bobcat photo.jpg

Some proponents of a bobcat season contend these animals are abundant and allegedly causing problems with domestic animals and other “nuisance” complaints. As evidenced by IDNR’s own “Proposed Limited Bobcat Harvest Season FAQs” these claims are unsubstantiated.

Not surprisingly, this information was recently removed from the agency’s webpage shortly following CWE’s blog post criticizing the agency’s rule package. Among the information that IDNR has taken offline is the following:

“We get very few reports of bobcats being a nuisance or causing damage. The proposal to have a limited season is not because of complaints or conflicts with bobcats…”

(IDNR’s FAQ page was removed from its website, but you can view it in its entirety here.)

Contrived bobcat conflicts fail to justify any need for a hunting and trapping season as any allegedly "problematic" bobcats can legally be managed under the authority of a “nuisance wild animal control permit” (312 IAC 9-3-18.1(a)).

Here’s how you can help Indiana Bobcats:

·        Write to Governor Eric Holcomb at:

Office of the Governor

Statehouse

Indianapolis, IN 46204-2797

Or contact Governor Holcomb via webform at: https://www.in.gov/gov/2752.htm

·        And/or contact Governor Holcomb's press secretary Rachel Hoffmeyer, 317-914-5634, rhoffmeyer@gov.in.gov to raise awareness about the IDNR's recent actions.

·        Urge the Governor to instruct IDNR’s Director, Cameron Clark, to honor the spirit of the agency’s act in May 2018 when the bobcat hunting and trapping provisions were withdrawn from the rule package. Request that IDNR cease and desist all activity that directly or indirectly serves to advance the implementation of a bobcat hunting or trapping season.

·        Be sure to maintain copies of all correspondence with Governor Holcomb or his Press Secretary for future reference.

Bobcat Hunting/Trapping Season Discussion Continues: Purported Closed Door Meetings and Pro-Hunting Workshop

As many subscribers will recall, IDNR proposed a bobcat hunting and trapping season earlier this year in its rule package (LSA #17-436). Following strong opposition during the public comment phase of the rule-making process - including your efforts - the provisions implementing a bobcat season were withdrawn by the agency.

sciencemag.org

sciencemag.org

Despite IDNR’s public claims that it had no immediate plan to reintroduce another proposal, its recent actions directly and deliberately contradict this claim in two important ways.

First, on October 2nd, 2018, IDNR hosted a meeting of more than 50 hunters and trappers who gathered in Velpen, Indiana specifically to renew the discussion about implementing a bobcat hunting/trapping season. This meeting was co-hosted by Indiana State Representatives Bartels, Bacon and Landauer.

Apparently, Indiana citizens who value these animals alive never received an invitation or notice about this event.

 Second, IDNR is conducting a communication workshop* on October 30th, 2018 entitled: "Communicating Your Message – Workshop for Wildlife Professionals." Topics include “Working with the Media about Controversial Topics” and “The Science of how People Interpret Messaging”, including, more specifically, “harvesting bobcat”.

Workshop attendees will be tasked with preparing a message for specific audiences, ostensibly, the non-hunting public, to apparently assist IDNR in reframing the message to manipulate the public with its misguided ideas about the alleged need for a hunting season.

Click the letter to expand

Click the letter to expand

Another meeting between hunters, trappers, and IDNR is tentatively planned in Ferdinand, Indiana. No further details are available as IDNR is allegedly keeping this meeting quiet to limit attendance to local citizens – presumably code for the recreational killing crowd. It is anticipated that Indiana legislators will also be in attendance so backroom lobbying can continue without any distraction or noise from attendees with opposing viewpoints.

Since it is unclear if organizations finding a bobcat hunting and trapping season scientifically unfounded or individuals morally opposed to the expansion of recreational killing will ever be informed of and/or welcomed at these upcoming events, such gatherings strongly infer an "us" vs. "them" mentality. These meetings highlight the agency’s preference to ignore the input of 96% of the Indiana citizens who do not hunt.

 

* “This event is part of a series of formal Continuing Educational Workshops presented by the Indiana Chapter of the Wildlife Society and Indiana Society of American Foresters in conjunction with Purdue University, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources.

Proposed Bobcat Season in Indiana: A Ploy by IDNR to Boost Interest in Hunting?

Bobcat-lynnhavenvillage.org.jpg

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is currently accepting public comments to a lengthy and convoluted rule package. Although CWE is working to oppose this rule package in its entirety, our members are particularly concerned about one new and troubling issue, specifically, the agency’s push for bobcat hunting and trapping.

IDNR recently released an FAQ sheet to support a bobcat season in Indiana. While IDNR’s publications typically consist of no more than agency propaganda, its responses to these FAQs actually demonstrate many of the reasons a bobcat season is an ill-advised, unnecessary and an unscientific idea.

For instance, IDNR has no idea which parts of the state “support strong, self-sustaining bobcat populations.” At the very least, an agency should have a firm handle on such analysis prior to proposing a bobcat season.

IDNR stresses that it will closely monitor and record the killing of bobcats, yet the same regulatory package that reintroduces hunting and trapping of these animals also proposes relaxing the reporting obligations for fur buyers. The agency also touts “strict limits” on bobcat killing, yet proposes no penalty provision to discourage wrongdoing.

Photo:  Great Cats of the World

Photo: Great Cats of the World

IDNR’s FAQ contends that “Trapping is highly regulated and strictly enforced by Indiana Conservation Officers”. While trapping proponents frequently repeat this claim, it is a falsehood. Wildlife trapping regulations are notoriously weak, extremely difficult to enforce, and depend almost exclusively on self-reporting by the trappers. Trappers scatter their hidden traps across the vast lands they trap on. Since there is no requirement for trappers to disclose trap locations, there is virtually no way for Conservation officers to detect violations. Additionally, IDNR’s Law Enforcement Division employs 214 Conservation officers, or just one Conservation Officer for every 170 square miles.

IDNR readily admits that the proposed season on bobcats is not due to nuisance or damage (livestock predation, etc.) complaints -- two primary “offenses” that quickly land any predator species on a wildlife agency’s hit list.

The proposed season will only benefit hunters or trappers who intend to sell or keep bobcat skins. According to the proposal, bobcat carcasses cannot be eaten and must be relinquished to the agency. Consequently, IDNR cannot sanitize the killing by creating one of its contrived “hunters for the hungry” programs – a favorite marketing tool used to disguise violence as altruism.

So given that bobcats are not in conflict with humans and that IDNR has no legitimate reason to open season on the species, why is IDNR targeting bobcats?

One explanation is that wildlife agencies including IDNR are desperate to salvage hunting as a recreational pastime.  

Photo: Outdoor Life

Photo: Outdoor Life

The popularity of hunting in the U.S. peaked in 1982 and has been in steady decline ever since. According to figures published by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, less than 4% of the population hunts today and the recent drop has been a sharp one. Between 2011 and 2016, the number of hunters nationwide dropped by 2.2 million people.

Simple demographics are one reason for this decline. So-called baby boomers, the generation aged 54 to 72, make up the largest segment of hunters and they are simply “aging out” of these deadly activities. Wildlife agencies have made attempts to reverse this trend, but reduced licensing fees and increased killing opportunities are not enough to entice older hunters. Furthermore, the average hunter fits a distinct profile: rural, white (>90%), and male (>70%). Meanwhile, the U.S. population is trending in the other direction: becoming more urban and diverse.

Desperate to save their primary source of revenue and relevance, wildlife agencies and the hunting industry have poured considerable resources and effort into “R3” initiatives: recruit new hunters; retain current hunters; and reactivate former hunters. In spite of these desperate efforts, R3 has largely failed. The group gaining the most access to the benefits of R3 efforts is routinely the children of hunters – the same kids most likely to take up hunting even without R3.  

Indiana has led the way in the failure of R3, losing more hunters than any other state between 1960 and 2016: approximately 340,000 or roughly the entire populations of Fort Wayne and Bloomington, IN combined!

So how does this relate to bobcats?

Bobcat-burkemuseum.org.jpg

Wildlife agencies will attempt to engage disinterested hunters and recruit new hunters by offering uncommon killing experiences, including the exploitation of previously protected species. The bobcats who will suffer under IDNR’s proposal are just the latest pawns used to resuscitate an antiquated activity that finds itself on life support in the 21st century. The agency’s commercialization of this species is particularly egregious since it literally sacrifices the lives of bobcats merely to boost waning interest in hunting and trapping.

If you would like to submit a public comment on behalf of Indiana’s bobcats, you may do so here. The public comment period closes on March 23, 2018. Please also consider attending two public meetings which will be held in Indiana in March to vocalize your opposition to the rule.