Five years ago, Illinois lawmakers trotted out a lot of ridiculous arguments to justify ending protections for bobcats that had been in place for 44 years.
They called the elusive animals, which have never been known to kill a single person, ferocious. They compared them to saber-toothed tigers. They conjured up unsubstantiated stories of bobcats raiding chickens and killing pet cats on farms.
The Legislature voted, by a razor-thin margin, to create an Illinois bobcat hunting season. This year’s season ended on Feb. 15.
Since bobcat hunting has resumed, more than 1,500 bobcats have been killed in Illinois, the Humane Society of the United States says. Before that, bobcats, which had been on the state’s threatened species list, had barely managed to recover from being overhunted in the past. Bobcat hunting remains illegal in Chicago and the northeast portion of the state.
The rush to end four decades of bobcat protections in Illinois was part of an ongoing and unwise assault on predator species in general in the United States. It threatens to upend decades of scientific efforts to return predator species to the land by balancing their needs with those of humans.
On March 10, Michigan’s state Senate approved a resolution urging state wildlife officials there to allow wolf hunting and trapping this year. Wisconsin recently held its first wolf hunt in several years, and some Montana lawmakers are trying to allow leg-hold traps, neck snares, extended seasons and the use of spotlights to shoot wolves at night.
Right before November’s presidential election, the Trump administration lifted Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the lower 48 states, except for Arizona and New Mexico, though wolves are basically extinct in most of their former range. President Joe Biden’s administration, on the new president’s first day in office, said it would review that decision.
Apex predator species of all types are a key to a balanced environment. They keep prey species from outgrowing their food supply and keep pests from proliferating. Wolf packs weakened by hunting are more likely to attack livestock.
Illinois’ shy and nocturnal bobcats eat rabbits, hares and rats, which farmers consider pests. They go out of their way to avoid people.
Bobcats are not hunted for their meat. Instead, hunters kill them to collect a trophy or for the animals’ reddish-brown, spotted coats, which can be sold on an international market. But that means using inhumane steel-jawed traps that can keep them languishing in pain for up to 24 hours or chasing them with dogs that might rip the terrified bobcats apart or tree them until a hunter arrives to shoot them.
Moreover, wildlife enthusiasts — the ones opposed to the hunt — say that their own views didn’t get a fair hearing when the Legislature voted to allow the resumption of bobcat hunting. Nature belongs to all of us, not just hunters, and the fewer bobcats roaming the state, the less chance anyone will have to see one. The thrill of seeing a bobcat in its habitat ought to outweigh someone having a chance to wear slippers made of bobcat fur.
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On Monday, the Illinois House Agriculture & Conservation Committee will hold a hearing on a bill to ban bobcat hunting in the state. The bill has been in the works ever since bobcat hunting resumed, says state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, a co-sponsor.
This time around, we hope the Legislature will base its decisions on the best science. If the Legislature simply does that, conservationists say, it will reinstate the ban on bobcat hunting.
“We don’t believe the science supports a hunting season for bobcats,” said Jennifer Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council. “It has had a detrimental effect on their population, particularly in areas of the states where their population hasn’t recovered.”
We share the planet with predators such as bobcats. We need enlightened, science-based policies and laws that guide us in doing this as best we can.
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