Last month both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly passed a bill that would legalize bobcat hunting in the state and sent it to Governor Bruce Rauner for his signature. It is the second time this year that a bobcat hunting bill has come before an Illinois governor, and the issue is still as divisive as the first time. In January, Rauner’s predecessor, former governor Pat Quinn, vetoed a similar bill on his last day in office by reasoning that bobcats in Illinois are still too vulnerable for a hunting season.
“We all have a responsibility to protect and maintain Illinois’ wildlife. Allowing people to hunt bobcats in Illinois violates that responsibility,” Quinn said in a press release earlier this year. “Habitat loss and trophy hunting put bobcats on the threatened species list in 1977, and it was only recently that the bobcat population recovered enough to be removed from this list.”
However, wildlife experts with the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) thought differently, and the agency previously threw its support behind the bill.
“With reliable sightings in 99 of 102 Illinois counties, it is safe to say that bobcats are adaptable and distributed widely,” the DNR stated. “Bobcats are moderately abundant throughout about half of Illinois, and research conducted at the Southern Illinois University Carbondale estimates that more than 2,220 bobcats are in the 13 southern-most counties. This is the highest concentration of bobcats in the state.”
Many hunters and rural residents agreed. Farmers say that bobcats can be dangerous to young livestock and have been growing increasingly bolder as their numbers increased, while sportsmen and women noticed the effects of bobcat predation on turkeys and deer fawns.
“I just would like everyone to understand, you know they think these are nice, cute, little kitties. Well those nice, cute, little kitties grow up to be killers of livestock and small game and also companion animals,” Representative Pat Verschoore (D-Milan), the main sponsor of the bill, told the Quad-City Times.
However, the bill is receiving heavy opposition from animal rights groups such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Some notable scientists, such as primatologist Jane Goodall, spoke in support of preserving protections for bobcats in Illinois.
“I have just heard that the bobcat is in danger. Again. There are people who have worked so hard to bring back this beautiful cat from the risk of extinction. So that, once again, it can play its role in its environment. How tragic if all this work is wasted—as it will be if it becomes legal, once more, to kill them,” Goodall stated in a HSUS press release.
Yet state biologists say that a limited hunt will have no effect on the bobcat population. If Governor Rauner signs the law, the season could start as early as this November and last until February. The DNR expects to sell 500 permits at $5 each, and will be limiting hunters to just one harvest each year. The northeastern part of the state, including Chicago and its metro area, will be exempt from hunting.