Weyrauch Gives Testimony on Bobcats’ Fate
NEWARK, OH, June 4, 2018 — The bobcat, once common in Ohio but absent for nearly 200 years, has made a resurgence in eastern and southern parts of the state. This prompted a hotly debated proposal for a bobcat-trapping season, a move The Ohio State University at Newark Senior Lecturer Shauna Weyrauch cautioned against at a recent Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Council meeting.
“The state’s data is biased by a recent increase in reported sightings due to trail cameras, which have only been in use since the mid-2000s,” said Weyrauch. “Sometimes different people may be capturing the same bobcat, so it made it appear that there was a huge spike in bobcat numbers.”
The council recognized this shortcoming and decided to indefinitely postpone a vote on allowing the trapping of bobcats.
Weyrauch began studying the cats in 2015, an endeavor she calls Project Wild Coshocton. Data obtained by trail cameras is used to document changes in the abundance and distribution of bobcats. Initially only in Coshocton County, the cameras now cover the southern part of Holmes County as well. Weyrauch hopes her findings will continue to help the state make informed decisions on its management of the wild cats.
Bobcats are native to Ohio, but were nearly driven to extinction in the 1800s by European settlers who cleared its forest habitat for settlements and agriculture and overhunted the animal for its fur, Weyrauch explained. Bobcats began making a comeback in the 1960s and 1970s, but it wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 2000s that sightings steadily increased. This is due in part to the restoration of habitat that has occurred as farmland and mines are abandoned. Bobcats were also protected under the endangered or threatened species classification between 1974 and 2012.
“Bobcats are Ohio’s only remaining native cat. This potential opening of a hunting season reverses their protection,” said Weyrauch. “I’m concerned about that effect on this population which is just beginning to recover. We don’t yet know how well they are recovering and how widely they are distributed across the state.”
There are a few bobcats in Licking County, too. People and pets have little to fear; bobcats are typically not aggressive animals though they have been caught eating pet food left outdoors. They play an important role as a top predator in the ecosystem, helping to regulate rodent populations. Indirectly, bobcats could help prevent disease by controlling the mouse population, which carry tick-borne diseases.
Project Wild Coshocton provides an opportunity for students to get involved in conservation research. Weyrauch has three to five students per semester involved in the project. They participate in fieldwork, setting up and maintaining trail cameras, or catalogue the hundreds of thousands of photographs captured.
It’s not just humans that threaten the propagation of bobcats. In keeping with the classic dog versus cat dispute, the future of Project Wild Coshocton considers the effect non-native coyotes, who compete for the same food, have on bobcats’ habitation. Weyrauch, for the record, is a self-admitted cat lover.
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