PIERRE — Taking a page from the harvest limit that has been used in South Dakota’s hunting seasons for mountain lions, the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission now plans to consider a quota system that would limit the bobcats taken in the coming season.
On Friday, the commission proposed a quota of 600 bobcats for the West River season this winter.
There were 780 bobcats taken by trappers and hunters during the past West River season and 650 in the previous one. The 12-year average is 626.
The commission also proposed moving the starting dates for the West River and East River seasons back by two weeks to Dec. 26 this year.
The West River season in turn would run two weeks deeper into the winter through March 1, 2014, while the East River season would go through Jan. 19, 2014.
A public hearing on the new proposal will be held July 8 at the commission’s next meeting in Pierre.
The East River season would continue to be limited to one bobcat per license holder. The East River harvest last season was 40.
There wouldn’t be any limit on bobcats taken by a license holder for the West River season, but the West River season would end once the quota was reached.
The 600 bobcat quota could be changed to another number, or simply set aside, by the commission at the July meeting.
State Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Jeff Vonk noted that 600 would be a significant decrease from the harvests in the two most recent seasons.
A West River quota wasn’t part of the commission’s original proposal for the coming season.
The idea came up after a public hearing Thursday. The commission decided to put aside that proposal because the quota wasn’t mentioned and start fresh.
Where the quota winds up will depend on what commissioners hear in the weeks ahead and at the July 8 hearing. Wildlife Division biologists plan to further sift through their data for any possible additional insights.
“I would rather err toward the lesser number,” commissioner Jim Spies of Watertown said Friday.
Spies pointed out that the state Wildlife Division is in the first year of a three-year study with South Dakota State University on bobcat populations.
At this point, the division doesn’t have a population estimate for bobcats or a formal management plan.
Biologists told the commission that sex ratios for bobcats taken last season West River suggest the harvest might be going too far. They said slightly more females were taken than males.
High fur prices in recent years seem to have driven more interest by trappers and hunters in pursuing bobcats.
“Eight-hundred to thousand-dollar ‘cats promotes a lot of take,” commissioner John Cooper of Pierre said.
State biologists determined that a 10-bobcat limit, as suggested Thursday by commissioner Gary Jensen of Rapid City, wouldn’t have much of an effect on reducing the overall harvest.
Nine license holders took 10 or more bobcats last season.
Pushing the seasons two weeks deeper into the winter is expected to produce bobcat pelts in better condition and could result in more males being taken, according to various biologists and citizens who spoke at the hearing Thursday.
The seasons traditionally have started on the second Saturday of December, which would be Dec. 14 this year.
Wildlife Division officials will use the coming weeks before the public hearing to develop a notification system for letting licensed trappers know when the bobcat quota is reached.