ROMNEY, W.Va. — A pair of research projects at West Virginia University to monitor the status of the bobcat population in West Virginia are winding down. The work will have an impact on management of the cats in the Mountain State for hunters and trappers in the years ahead.
The field work on both projects is done. The two students are now writing the final analysis of the data. Rich Rogers, Furbearer Biologist for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources says the preliminary findings tell him a couple of things. First, bobcat numbers are strong and stable, but second raising the bag limit is probably not a good idea.
“From the data that’s been collected, the population is healthy and is at least stable. I wouldn’t say it’s increasing, but it’s stable at a high level,” said Rogers. “We’re okay with the bag limit as it is. Until I see more from this study, I would hesitate to raise the bag limit at this point.”
The separate studies were commissioned by the DNR after West Virginia trappers inquired about raising the annual bag limit from three to four.
“They were just asking for it, nobody was pressuring anybody, but they did ask,” said Rogers. “It was directly due to the fur prices. Four or five years ago bobcats were bringing $140 to $160 a piece. People were pretty excited about that.”
Since then, the market price for bobcat fur has dropped and the requests to consider the increase has subsided. However, Rogers knew it was time to take a look since the most recent data on bobcats in the Mountain State was 40 years old.
“It was from the late 70’s and that came from the Convention and International Trade in Endangered Species Act, which everybody knows as CITES. You need that CITES seal to sell those furs especially if they are sold overseas,” he explained.
The CITES seals became necessary when the bobcat was among several species listed by the federal government as a “look-a-like” species to some endangered animals in other parts of the world.
“Bobcats certainly aren’t endangered, as a matter of fact they’re the most studied animal in North America. River otter is another one that needs the CITES seal,” he explained. “When they were listed as look-a-like species, the federal government needed assurances our bobcat populations were healthy before they shipped them overseas to the international market.”
One WVU graduate student working on a masters degree collected carcasses of bobcats from hunters and trappers in West Virginia over the last two years. The second study, performed by a student working on a doctoral thesis, collected fur samples from live bobcats across the state.
“The masters project where we collected all the carcasses, we were looking for survival and reproduction,” said Rogers, “The PhD project is going to come up with a density estimate of bobcats in different regions of the state.”
The two students are expected to present their findings in the coming months once all data is assembled into a presentation form and analysis is complete.