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February 14. 2014 11:42PM

Forest Journal: Bobcat's visit dramatizes species' resurgence in NH


Apparently done entertaining workers at the Conservation Center in Concord, a visiting bobcat heads toward the parking lot. (STEVEN JUNKIN)

CONCORD -- Tom Brady stopped by for a visit last week. Or, rather, it seemed like Tom Brady stopped by.

It really was much more exciting: A bobcat sauntered around right outside our office here at the Concord neighborhood home of the Conservation Center. It climbed up the hill that rises above the conserved floodplain of the Merrimack River and hunkered down for a while in our garden area in full view of our staff. Then it walked around the building toward the front door and parking lot.

If you want to see a group of normally mellow tree huggers turn instantly into a bunch of excited, overgrown kids, just say: "Hey, there's a bobcat out the window!"

If our building were a raft, we would have nearly tipped over several times, given all the weight concentrated first on one side, then another as we moved en masse to whichever window provided the best view.

The admiration went well beyond our building when we shared some photos on Facebook and got our most "likes" ever for a single post.

All the enthusiasm shows how rare it is to see a bobcat. Many staffers here spend lots of time out in the woods but either had never seen one or had just one other bobcat-sighting story. My only other sighting was, ironically, just two weeks ago at my home in Sanbornton.

My family and I were sitting around the kitchen table around 8 a.m. when my husband looked into the backyard and said, "Hey, look at that!" The bobcat had just jumped down from a stone wall and was walking toward the compost pile. It was gone in an instant, back over the wall and into the hundreds of acres of woods beyond.

I think our enthusiasm over seeing bobcats is about more than mere novelty. Bobcats are sharp-toothed predators, skilled hunters who stalk smaller mammals. Their tawny coats blend perfectly into the forest, letting them easily disappear from our limited vision. Their eyes glint with a hunter's cunning. Their combined attributes seem to evoke the essence of "wildness."

To see a bobcat is to get a little closer to the wild and the free - things we seem to be ever distancing ourselves from in our enthrallment with all things digital and man-created.

In his 2013 book, "The Once and Future World," J.B. MacKinnon makes a case for changing our relationship to nature so that we can gain back some of the wildness that once existed. He argues that we live in a world that is a faint echo of the teeming life that was once here, that 90 percent of the diversity of life that once existed on earth has been lost.

"Nature as we know it today is a fraction of what it was, but what might that fraction be? No single study has made the calculation, but an accumulation of research on the decline of species after species, of living system after living system, does point toward a figure," MacKinnon writes. "We live in a 10 percent world."

Today 4,000 species are critically endangered worldwide, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and habitats are disappearing daily. Yet, here in New Hampshire we can look up from our computers, set down our cell phones and watch a wild bobcat, perhaps driven by cold and hunger, eyeing our birdfeeders where squirrels hang upside down stealing seed. That sight gives me hope. This land around us, near the river, is conserved because the Forest Society owns it, which means that this bobcat and its descendants have a place to thrive. That little success story makes me think that maybe we as a society really can conserve more land, protect more natural resources and pollute them less, and we really will see more of the diversity of life return.

Another hopeful sign is that bobcats may be increasing in number here in New Hampshire. N.H. Fish and Game just did a cover story in its latest issue of Wildlife Journal about bobcat sightings becoming more frequent and a joint Fish and Game/UNH study aiming to determine why.

Bobcats' numbers have been considered low enough since 1989 that hunting and trapping them is illegal. Researchers estimate that New Hampshire has the habitat to support about 900 to 1,100 adult bobcats, depending on mortality rates at different times of the year, but they say further study is needed to determine how strong the population is today.

While we await the results, I'll be comforted with the possibility of seeing the office-visiting bobcat again sometime. It's hugely distracting knowing it's out there somewhere. As I write this, I keep scanning the woods for signs of movement, thinking "Watch out, all you frolicking squirrels!" (It's research, not simply gazing out the window, I tell my boss.) I bet I'm not the only one hoping for another glance.

"Forest Journal " is published every other week in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Brenda Charpentier is communications manager for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. Email her at bcharpentier@forestsociety.org.


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