It all started late last summer (2017) and in reality all of this began several years ago. I am referring to a potential bobcat season here in Indiana. For those of you from out of state, please read further. The "big picture" of this applies to all of us who care about conservation, wildlife management, trapping and hunting rights.
As bobcat sightings increased, incidental catches increased, road-kills increased and trail cam pictures increased- the common question was "when are we going to have a bobcat season?" Here at Hoosier Trapper Supply it was pretty rare for a day to go by without hearing about someone's encounter with a bobcat. I have to say, I was pretty excited. In my younger years I never dreamed that we would even have a discussion about a bobcat season in my home state.
For some related history, Indiana worked through and received an otter season which started in 2015. It is a strictly regulated season, applies only to certain counties, and has a quota. Quite frankly, the process for obtaining the otter season came off without much of a hitch. There was some public opposition however, it was fairly insignificant.
The process in Indiana, initially the proposed season is preliminary adopted by the Natural Resource Commission. From that point the proposal is opened up for public comment. The public can comment both on-line and at public comment hearings.
Last October (2017) I attended the Natural Resource Commission meeting where the proposal was up for a vote to either stop or move forward the idea of a season. The bobcat season was in a package of a number of proposed rule changes. The bobcat season along with a rule to require nuisance trappers to euthanize raccoons, opossums and coyotes (instead of releasing them) were the two changes that were significant. Bottom line, the Natural Resource Commission voted to preliminary adopt the rule package. This was despite a very lopsided group of attendees. Three of us spoke in favor of the season and 16 spoke against. To me, the opposition to this was the first wake up call.
I overheard one individual opposed to the season say "We are just getting started".
Over the next 6 months on-line comments were accepted and 2 public hearings were held. Trappers were encouraged to make a comment on-line and to attend hearings.
The first public hearing was in Southern Indiana in a county that would be included in the season. The meeting was well attended. Those in favor of the season were 60% plus and those opposed were 35% plus or minus. At this point I felt pretty good about our position and support.
The second and last public hearing was held in the Northern Indiana.
All I can say is that a geographical change made a huge difference. The area was much closer to Indianapolis and several mostly urban counties. The proposed counties for the season were all in the southern half of the state. The hearing was in the northern half of the state. To make a long story short; 70 people spoke in opposition to the season and only 10 of us spoke in favor. I must admit it was a miserable 3 hours to sit through. The opposition brought up everything from how many ticks opossums eat to the white rhino going extinct. We were just out-matched. Certainly, the opposition which included the Humane Society of the United States and the Sierra Club was much more organized than we were and did a better job in rallying the troops. Even though, what they said was half truths at best and in most cases just plan "made up" rhetoric.
The Natural Resource Commission met in May (2018) for a final vote on the proposed rule changes. The room slowly filled up and by the time the meeting started there wasn't a chair available. It was evident that those of us in favor of a season were in the minority. To say it wasn't even close would be an understatement!
Here again, the opposition did a much better job. The meeting agenda was adjusted so that the bobcat season, mandatory euthanasia proposals, and the other DNR rule changes would be addressed first. To sum this up, the DNR pulled the bobcat season and the mandatory euthanasia proposals from the rule change package. The Natural Resource Commission voted in favor of the rest of the package. No Bobcat Season on the immediate horizon!
Some may say (and I agree) biology and the recommendation of a biologist were ignored in favor of an unknowing, emotionally charged group that would oppose any consumptive use of wildlife. Some have speculated that the opposition came from out of state. Although, some of the on-line opposition did come from out of state, it was noted appropriately and the vast majority of the opposition came from within Indiana. It would be naïve to say politics aren't involved as well.
I also would say, what is the point of public input if it was just ignored? Online comments were very lopsided with a ratio of 10 - 1 in favor of those opposed to the season. Online response was much greater than the number of attendees at the 2 public hearings.
We can speculate with conspiracy theories, make excuses, pass-blame or we can accept responsibility and admit that we were just outnumbered and out maneuvered.
Some may say "I'm not in an area that will be a part of the season, I just don't care and I don't need to be involved" My response to that is this is a gain for all of us whether you personally can take advantage of the season or not. To have a bobcat season is an offensive gain. Trappers are a minority and we have the largest target on our backs in respect to all of the animal rights groups. Many states continually fight the efforts of these groups. So we have to remember, even if it doesn't affect us directly we have to be pro-active. It's far better to make gains than to have a defensive position to protect what we have.
To sum all of this up (from my perspective), the next time the bobcat season is proposed we as trappers cannot afford any level of apathy.
We need to be organized, we need to ask other sportsmen's groups for help, and we need to follow through. Like I said this is a wake-up call!
Charlie Masheck has been a trapper since 1972. He started Hoosier Trapper Supply in 1976 and was a fur buyer from 1976 - 1991. Charlie is also the formulator of the Leatherwood Line of trapping scents, Top Dog Predator Bait and Lip Licker Deer Lure. His 46 years of trapping experience and association with trappers and the fur industry have given him a history and perspective of the trapping trade few have.