New Report Suggests Unreliable Science Is Guiding the Counting, Hunting and Management of Bobcats in Western United States

Media Contacts: Wyoming Untrapped: Loren Taylor, [email protected]
Panthera: Susie Weller Sheppard, (347) 446-9904, [email protected]

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Review finds flaws in methods estimating Wyoming’s bobcat population and other states, with concern population overestimates justify exploitation

Jackson, WY – A new scientific publication titled, “Is unreliable science guiding bobcat management in Wyoming and other western US states?,” in Ecological Solutions and Evidence suggests unreliable scientific methods are currently informing abundance estimates and management of bobcat populations in the western United States. The study was carried out by the University of Kentucky, Wyoming Untrapped, and Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization.

A significant and unexplained spike in bobcat population size estimates after 2003 triggered the collaborative scientific review of the statistical population reconstruction (SPR) model that is guiding Wyoming and other western United States bobcat management.

Lead author and University of Kentucky researcher, Dr. Sean Murphy, stated, “The substantial increase in bobcat abundance estimates in Wyoming after 2003 was inexplicable and did not reflect observed trends in bobcat harvests, prey populations or numbers of trappers on the landscape. Our investigation found that the increase in abundance estimates was primarily influenced by a transition in who was responsible for determining the age and sex of trapped bobcats. In this case, the switch from state agency biologists to the trappers themselves.”

Researchers found that this change likely resulted in multiple violations of the SPR model and, consequently, inflated bobcat abundance estimates across Wyoming, potentially by as many as 9,000 animals per year. Bobcats are hunted recreationally and also widely trapped for their pelts, which are sourced to international markets for spotted furs.

Wyoming Untrapped Executive Director, Loren Taylor, stated, “All agencies with jurisdictional management authority have a responsibility to both wildlife, in this case bobcats, and the public to ensure data integrity when utilizing such information to justify setting harvest limits or allowing hunting and trapping.”

The authors concluded that the long-term trends produced by the SPR model are only as reliable as the underlying harvest data, which are inconsistent and highly variable across the West, and more specifically over the last 14 years of data collection (2003–2017) in Wyoming.

Statistical Population Reconstruction is a model increasing in popularity among wildlife agencies in the United States to create population estimates from hunting and trapping data. However, when harvest data violate SPR assumptions, which they almost always will for cryptic carnivores, such as bobcats, the model produces flawed estimates that could misguide management.

Panthera Puma Program Director, Dr. Mark Elbroch, stated, “This push to estimate bobcats quickly and poorly is worrying because it appears to be a means of justifying status quo management and current bobcat exploitation. We would rather see wildlife agencies develop new strategies based on the inclusion of diverse perspectives, including those people who value carnivores as necessary components of healthy ecosystems.”

The researchers recommend that a far more effective and informative approach for carnivore population monitoring and management decision-making is integrated population models (IPM), which can utilize multiple types of data (camera surveys and harvest data) and provide managers with not just abundance estimates, but the demographic drivers underlying changes in abundance as well.

Dr. Murphy concluded, “Most U.S. states rely on harvest data for monitoring bobcat populations, but those data are often replete with inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and rarely reflect true population sizes of bobcats or other carnivores. By applying more structured and rigorous approaches to surveying and estimating bobcat populations within an adaptive management framework, which integrated population models are well-suited for, we hope to see a robust and diverse bobcat population across the mountain West.”

About Wyoming Untrapped

Wyoming Untrapped is dedicated to creating a safe and humane environment for people, pets and wildlife through education, trapping regulation reform, and compassionate coexistence.

About University of Kentucky, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

The Department of Forestry and Natural Resources was established in 1969 as part of the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. The Department’s mission is to enhance the ecological, economic, and social benefits of forests and related natural resources to elevate the quality of life for Kentuckians and beyond. Visit https://forestry.ca.uky.edu/.

About Panthera

Panthera, founded in 2006, is devoted exclusively to preserving wild cats and their critical role in the world’s ecosystems. Panthera’s team of leading biologists, law enforcement experts and wild cat advocates develop innovative strategies based on the best available science to protect cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, lions, pumas, snow leopards, tigers and the 33 small cat species and their vast landscapes. In 39 countries around the world, Panthera works with a wide variety of stakeholders to reduce or eliminate the most pressing threats to wild cats—securing their future, and ours. Visit panthera.org.

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