Nature Nut: Can you believe a bobcat was seen in Rochester?

December 30, 2018
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Although grainy, this picture of a bobcast, seen recently in Rochester, was enough to convince Nature Nut and a bobcat researcher of its presence here.

Over the past three decades I have gotten a handful of reports of mountain lions, or cougars, spotted in the Rochester area.

Those that are verified are usually attributed to wandering males from out west looking for a mate. However, of the other two wildcats that can be found in Minnesota, the bobcat seems to be making inroads to once again expand its range into the southern part of the state.

Recently I got an interesting tip about an area bobcat sighting, not in the Whitewater or Root River valleys, but right in the city limits of Rochester, less than three miles from downtown. Checking it out, I am confident it was an actual bobcat, even though a very grainy photo was the only evidence, other than coming from someone I believed a reliable source.

Bobcats are the most common of the three wild Minnesota felines, which along with the cougar mentioned above, also include the lynx. Although bobcats are mostly found north of Interstate 94 in Minnesota, they can be found throughout most of the U.S., and once were even common in southern Minnesota. Hunting and agricultural practices are believed to be what extirpated them from this part of the state until their recent return.

Bobcats feed mostly on smaller mammals such as rabbits and squirrels, but can take a fawn or adult deer, even though bobcats seldom weigh more than 40 pounds. In decades past they were often shot when raiding farmyards, although current confinement of most farm animals has reduced that problem. And, although I could find no reports of pets being taken by bobcats in Minnesota, in other states, including Texas and California, there have been a few pet losses reported due to bobcats.

According to John Erb, a DNR furbearer biologist based in Grand Rapids, the increase of bobcat sightings might be more due to movement north from Iowa rather than south from northern Minnesota. He bases this on DNA sampling taken of bobcats in both states, with Iowa’s bobcat concentration being mostly in the south, or along the eastern river corridors.

John also says that bobcat numbers in northern Minnesota have increased over the past couple decades, most likely due to increased logging, which opened up areas more preferred by bobcats. Thicker boreal forests along the Canadian border, and further north, are the favored habitat for Lynx.

John estimates current bobcat numbers in the state to be in the 5,000 to 7,000 range from spring to fall. And, even though he spends a lot of time in the woods, he indicated he has “only seen one in the wild.”

Bobcats are legal to take by firearms or trapping in northern counties, with a five-cat limit per person. Data shows an average of 1.2 taken by those who try to harvest these elusive cats, rarely seen by humans. With depressed fur prices, a Minnesota bobcat hide might be only worth about $100. Interestingly, John stated “bobcats from western states, with a bit more coloration than ours, might bring $1,000 each for making full coats, hoods, or other clothing trim”.

Although bobcat sightings are increasing in southern Minnesota, John said there are no current plans to extend hunting and trapping to our region, although he said it may be possible in the future. I questioned, why harvest rarely seen animals like bobcats and otters, and John indicated “it helps to get data for management, and doesn’t appear to limit or reduce the overall population.”

When I shared the story of the recent bobcat sighting in Rochester with a friend, he indicated an acquaintance told him of seeing bobcats in the same location a couple years ago. Given both reports were along a river corridor, habitat favored over open fields by bobcats, I suspect Rochester has had other bobcat visitors over the past few years.

More than likely, most of us will never see a bobcat in the wild around here, although you may be able to see both a bobcat and lynx at Oxbow Park. However, if you do see one in the wild, I hope you are able to shoot it … with a camera. And, if so, make sure to report it to DNR officials.

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