Illinois hunters may target bobcats beginning next year after Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a law Tuesday.
As it did during debate in the General Assembly, the issue and the Republican's action drew sharp rebuke. To hunters, the once-endangered nocturnal cat's growing population is a nuisance and potential danger. To opponents of the law, the "shy and elusive" animal is being put in the crosshairs by trophy-hunters.
The Humane Society of the United States issued a statement condemning the "absurd and outlandish exaggerations" upon which lawmakers relied to garner support.
One of the proposal's sponsors, Democratic Rep. Patrick Verschoore of Milan, pointed out there are as many as 5,000 bobcats in Illinois today. Supporters say that's ten times more than at any time in the past two decades.
No more than 300 bobcats may be hunted or trapped during a season running from Nov. 1 to Feb. 15. State-issued permits will cost $5.
But the first season won't begin until 2016, said Chris Young, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The state must first require necessary permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which requires proper tagging of bobcat pelts.
"Hunters and trappers play an important role in managing resources and paying for conservation services, and Illinois homeowners should be given the ability to manage wildlife that are causing problems on their property," Catherine Kelly, spokeswoman for the governor, an avid hunter, said in a prepared statement. "If at any time the species is threatened, the IDNR will suspend hunting and trapping."
Opponents argued bobcats aren't hunted for eating, just for sport by those seeking a prize and bragging rights.
In a prepared statement, Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society, criticized Rauner's action and for ignoring what he said was overwhelming Illinois-taxpayer opposition to authorized hunting.
"To get the bill passed through the Legislature," Pacelle said, "lawmakers relied on absurd and outlandish exaggerations about bobcats — who are shy and elusive creatures that only weigh slightly more than an average house cat — and it's unfortunate that the Governor apparently fell for this fear-mongering."