Part 2, Section 2.20 and Part 6, Sections 6.2 and 6.4 - More Than One Species (Bobcat) - Regulatory Impact Statement
Regulatory Impact Statement
1. Statutory Authority
Section 11-0303 of the Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) authorizes the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC or department) to provide for the recreational harvest of wildlife giving due consideration to ecological factors, the natural maintenance of wildlife, public safety, and the protection of private property. Sections 11-0901, 11-0903, 11-0905, 11-1101 and 11-1103 of the ECL authorize the department to regulate the taking, possession and disposition of beaver, fisher, otter, bobcat, coyote, fox, raccoon, opossum, weasel, skunk, muskrat, pine marten and mink ("furbearers").
2. Legislative Objectives
The legislative objective of the statutory provisions listed above is to authorize the department to establish the seasons and methods by which furbearers may be taken by hunting and trapping. Season dates are used to achieve harvest objectives and equitably distribute hunting opportunity among as many hunters and trappers as possible. Regulations governing the manner of taking upgrade the quality of recreational activity, provide for a variety of harvest techniques, afford populations with additional protection if needed, and provide for public safety and protect private property.
3. Needs and Benefits
This rulemaking will implement changes prescribed in the recently adopted Management Plan for Bobcat in New York State, 2012-2017, which can be viewed at: www.dec.ny.gov/docs/wildlife_pdf/finalbmp2012.pdf. The proposed changes would provide additional, sustainable bobcat harvest opportunities in many areas of the state and standardize hunting and trapping season dates in areas where bobcat harvest opportunities already exist. Additional rationale for the proposed changes is provided below.
Northern New York bobcat seasons :
The department proposes two specific regulatory changes for northern New York: 1) extend the close of bobcat trapping season to February 15th (trapping season currently closes on December 10th) in the Northern Adirondacks, Central Adirondacks, Champlain Valley and Transition, St. Lawrence Valley, and East Ontario Plain; and 2) extend the close of bobcat hunting and trapping seasons to February 15th (both seasons currently close on December 10th) in the Central Tug Hill area. These changes will result in a uniform bobcat hunting and trapping season throughout much of eastern New York, and provide some additional opportunities for trappers and hunters in northern New York.
Historically, Northern Zone WMUs have had much shorter (7-week) bobcat trapping seasons within a more liberal (16-week) hunting season. These shorter trapping seasons were designed to protect a growing fisher population. Fisher populations have since expanded throughout the Northern Zone (and in many areas of the Southern Zone, as well), and they have been harvested in a sustainable manner for several decades, therefore the shorter bobcat trapping season is no longer necessary.
Total bobcat harvest in northern New York in recent years averaged about 170 animals, with slightly more taken by hunters than by trappers. Extending the seasons to February 15 would provide eight additional weeks of trapping opportunity, but we expect minimal additional harvest to occur because snow, ice and poor road access limit trapper effort and success in the Adirondacks and Tug Hill during the winter months. In addition, the rugged landscape and limited road network in these areas creates refuge areas where bobcats are subject to little trapping pressure. Few trappers can afford the time to maintain trap sets in remote areas of the Adirondacks. We recently extended land trapping seasons for other furbearing species (i.e., fox, coyote, opossum, skunk, raccoon, and weasel) in eight Northern Zone WMUs, from December 10 until February 15, and only 3% of trappers took advantage of this new opportunity. In the Tug Hill area, where the bobcat hunting season would also be extended (to match the rest of northern New York), hunting is limited to those areas located near roads or along snowmobile corridors.
With these considerations, we expect limited additional participation by bobcat trappers and hunters in northern New York, and predict that fewer than 50 additional bobcats will be taken per year with the changes proposed. We do not expect this increase in harvest to significantly affect the abundance of bobcats in the Adirondacks or other areas of northern New York. Nevertheless, the trappers and hunters who participate in this additional opportunity will appreciate having more time afield, providing some modest economic and recreational benefits.
Southern Zone bobcat seasons :
The department proposes to open very conservative bobcat hunting and trapping seasons in portions of the Southern Zone, from October 25th to the Friday before opening day of the regular big game season (the 3rd Saturday in November). Areas that would open under this proposal (referred to as "Harvest Expansion Area") include the West Appalachian Plateau, Central Appalachian Plateau, Otsego-Delaware Hills, Mohawk Valley, and New York City Transition WMU aggregates, and WMU 7S. Bobcat hunting and trapping seasons are currently closed in these areas.
Bobcats historically occurred throughout the Southern Zone and observations reported by trappers, bowhunters, and the general public indicate a robust and increasing population. Over the past five years there have been more than 330 bobcat observations documented in the Harvest Expansion Area. Observations rates in this area are similar to, or exceed, those in the areas currently open in eastern and northern New York.
We propose a very conservative approach to initiating bobcat harvest opportunity in this area, including restrictions on season length and timing. A short season would limit the number of bobcats harvested, while still providing some opportunity for small game hunters and trappers. Season length in the Harvest Expansion Area will be much shorter (3-4 weeks) than in the current harvest area (~16 weeks), where bobcats have been harvested in a sustainable manner for many years. The estimated harvest in this area should be only about 30% of a full season, or less than 100 bobcats across the entire area.
Adding the maximum predicted harvest for the Harvest Expansion Area (100 animals) to the maximum predicted harvest increases in northern New York (up to 50 bobcats) results in a total predicted bobcat harvest averaging about 650 animals statewide. We are confident that this is a sustainable harvest from the estimated population of 5,000+ bobcats statewide. We believe that the conservative seasons to be opened in the Southern Zone will allow for both a limited and sustainable harvest of bobcats, and continued growth of bobcat populations in central and western New York.
With the opening of new hunting and trapping seasons in the Harvest Expansion Area, we will carefully monitor the harvest that occurs through pelt seal data and analysis of harvest and biological data from bobcats taken in that area. Trappers and hunters will be required to obtain a free permit from the department to hunt or trap bobcat in this area to facilitate the collection of data needed to evaluate these new harvest opportunities. The permit will require that trappers and hunters maintain a diary of their bobcat hunting and trapping effort and success, and submit the lower jaw or canine tooth from all harvested bobcat prior to the pelt being sealed. The diary will collect information on hunting and trapping effort (hours hunted and/or trap-nights) by permit holders. Collectively, these measures will enhance our understanding of the status and population trends of bobcats in the Southern Zone.
Finally, we propose elimination of obsolete regulations pertaining to experimental trapping seasons for bobcat and fisher that were held during the 2006-2007 through 2008-2009 seasons. Those seasons are no longer in effect and would be inconsistent with bobcat harvest regulations being proposed at this time.
The proposed revisions to 6 NYCRR will not result in any increased expenditures by State or local governments or the general public, other than the normal administrative costs to DEC associated with notifying hunters and trappers of the changes, issuance of hunting and trapping permits, analysis of collected biological samples, and the costs associated with enforcing new regulations.
The proposed revisions would require any hunters and trappers who wish to take advantage of the expanded bobcat harvest opportunities in some areas obtain a free permit from the department, and maintain and submit a diary of their hunting and trapping activity. This is necessary for us to evaluate hunter activity and harvest that occurs in the newly established harvest area.
6. Local Government Mandates
This rulemaking does not impose any program, service, duty or responsibility upon any county, city, town, village, school district or fire district. There are no local governmental mandates associated with this proposal.
The proposed rulemaking does not duplicate or conflict with any other local, state or federal regulations concerning the taking of furbearing animals.
No action . Taking no action would be inconsistent with the recently adopted bobcat management plan and deny licensed trappers and hunters an opportunity for additional sustainable use of the resource. No action would also maintain a relatively complex set of hunting and trapping season dates in the Northern Zone when no justification for these current season dates exists.
Shorter, uniform season dates in the Northern Zone . The department considered shortening bobcat hunting season dates in the Northern Zone and aligning them with the current, shorter trapping season dates to achieve uniformity in season dates. Such a change would not be welcomed by bobcat hunters, particularly those who pursue them with dogs. Bobcat hunters who use dogs traditionally have waited until the later portion of the bobcat hunting season to pursue them to avoid conflicts with deer hunters. Shortening the bobcat hunting season would force these hunters to hunt during the open deer season. In addition, there is no biological information that suggests shortening the bobcat hunting season is necessary. In fact, available data supports increasing opportunities on bobcats in the Northern Zone.
Do not institute new seasons in the Harvest Expansion Area . Not opening additional harvest areas would run counter to criteria developed in the bobcat plan for determining when an area is suitable for sustained harvest and would cause disappointment among hunters and trappers who desire these new opportunities. The observation data that we have collected in these areas strongly suggest a healthy and growing bobcat population that is capable of sustaining harvest. Continuing to have closed seasons in these areas would also hamper the Department's ability to gain a firmer understanding of the dynamics of the bobcat population due to the loss of the harvest, effort, and other biological data that would have been collected as part of these new opportunities.
9. Federal Standards
Currently, bobcats are listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is responsible for implementing certain treaty obligations, and they do so via their Office of Scientific Authority, and their Office of Management Authority. This listing requires that harvested bobcats or their pelts be affixed with a plastic seal prior to being exported from the United States. DEC has previously adopted regulations to satisfy this sealing requirement and will continue to follow these practices. The proposed amendments do not affect or duplicate this federal standard, and there are no other federal environmental standards or criteria relevant to the subject matter of this rule making.
10. Compliance Schedule
All hunters and trappers who wish to harvest bobcats must comply with this rule making upon its effective date and during all subsequent hunting seasons.