State officials on Wednesday night once again attempted to explain the benefits and feasibility of bobcat hunting in Dubuque County.
About 50 people attended a public information meeting, which was held by Iowa Department of Natural Resources at E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center at Mines of Spain State Recreation Area in Dubuque. Several attendees came with questions to pose during the event.
In 2021, the DNR removed Dubuque County from a list of counties in which a bobcat hunting season was to be added, after receiving 20 letters opposing the season from county residents and other feedback. Delaware and Jones counties were added at that time, and bobcat hunting already was allowed in Jackson County.
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Wednesday’s meeting marked the DNR’s renewed attempt at addressing those citizen concerns, as well as a more general explanation of statewide management efforts.
“Some folks felt like we wanted to wipe out the bobcats in Dubuque County, and that’s far from the truth,” said state furbearer biologist Vince Evelsizer before the event. “... We wouldn’t propose this hunting season if we didn’t know (the population could handle it).”
Evelsizer gave a presentation for the group during which he reviewed local field reports and a landowner survey to show the recovery and health of local bobcat populations. According to a survey sent to Dubuque County landowners in March, about 46% of respondents said they were in favor of bobcat hunting to some extent, 36% were unsure and 15% were completely opposed.
Bobcats are native to Iowa, but they were mostly wiped out by human settlement and loss of woodsy habitat by the early 1900s. They were protected as an endangered species in the state by 1977. But officials saw the cats return in the 1990s, and their populations continue to climb.
While people don’t often see the medium-sized predator, Evelsizer advised that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Bobcat numbers are estimated to be growing steadily in Dubuque County, although the cats’ reclusive nature makes it difficult to get an exact number.
“Most of them are pretty secretive, so seeing them is pretty rare (even in areas with high populations),” Evelsizer said. “Folks haven’t seen them everywhere around, and that maybe plays into why people are concerned.”
He further tried to assuage people’s fears by pointing to surrounding counties in which bobcat hunting is legal where populations have continued to thrive. In the 2021-2022 season, there were eight bobcats killed in Jones County, nine in Delaware County and 17 in Jackson County.
Any hunting season in Dubuque County would have a conservative, one-bobcat bag limit.
“We’re able to compare the counties that have been in the bobcat harvest zone since the beginning (of regulated hunting in 2007) to the counties that are outside the harvest zone, and the bobcat population based on the occupancy model shows no sag in the population numbers,” Evelsizer said.
Mike Wolter, of Dubuque, said that while he was unsure if he would participate in a potential bobcat hunting season, he was in favor of having a regulated season regardless. He pointed to the data that showed sustainable populations in counties with even the most intense harvests.
“It’s simply the science,” Wolter said. “You look at the data. They’ve done the research, and they have 12 years’ worth of data that shows they’re sustaining the population.”
Joe Zwack, of Dubuque, said after Evelsizer’s presentation that he still was against the idea of bobcat hunting, adding that a bobcat was poached off his property a few years ago. Despite being a hunter for decades, he said, the bobcats were a species the county should leave alone to allow for further population growth.
“I’m 83 years old, and I have a lifetime hunting and fishing license,” he said. “... I’m very pro-hunting normally, but I just want to save this part of our wildlife here in Iowa.”
Wednesday’s meeting was for informational purposes only and will have no immediate impact on whether bobcat hunting is allowed in the county.
If the DNR intends to add Dubuque County to the next hunting season, which begins Nov. 4, Evelsizer said that information will be in a proposal likely released in or around February. At that point, there would be additional opportunities for public input.