Hunting once-threatened bobcats would be legal under a bill making its way through the Illinois House.
The bill, whose chief co-sponsor is Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton, would allow hunters to take one bobcat per year. Trappers would be allowed to trap a yet-to-be-determined number of bobcats.
"Across the state, especially downstate, there's been a large growth in the population of bobcats," Costello said.
In 2000, researchers at Southern Illinois University estimated there were at least 2,200 bobcats in the 13 southernmost counties of the state. In 2009, the population in that region was estimated at 3,200 bobcats.
Bobcat hunting was outlawed in Illinois in 1972, and they were added to the state's threatened-species list in 1972. In 1999, they were removed from the threatened-species list because studies confirmed their growing numbers.
Costello said if bobcat numbers aren't managed through hunting, they'll be an unchecked predator, possibly responsible for declining numbers of deer, turkey and quail.
"Deer numbers are down fairly drastically, and the deer kill was down really drastically this year," Costello said. "Turkey numbers, believe it or not, are down across the state, and the quail population has really been decimated."
If the bill passes, bobcat hunting would be regulated by the Department of Natural Resources. The hunting season would be sometime between Nov. 1 and Feb. 15. The bill allows hunters to take one bobcat per year, while the DNR would determine the number that trappers could take.
Bobcats are about twice as large as a house cat, standing 20 to 23 inches high at the shoulder and weighing up to 40 pounds. Their preferred habitats are large forests and timber areas along waterways.
They're mostly nocturnal, though they're sometimes seen at daytime during the breeding season and during winter when food becomes scarce.
Illinois is one of only eight states that does not allow bobcat hunting. In 2011-2012, there were 4,199 bobcats taken in Missouri, 2,417 taken in Kentucky, 391 taken in Iowa and 357 taken in Wisconsin. Indiana does not have a bobcat hunting season.
IDNR estimates that Illinois' bobcat population is growing by 4 to 9 percent per year.
The bill is House Bill 4226.
Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2511.