A little bigger than the heftiest house cat, Pennsylvania's only confirmed wild feline, the bobcat, is expanding its range.
Once common across the state, the bobcat didn't experience purges that wiped out larger predators, but its range was greatly reduced. In 1970 it became a protected game species, its population regulated through limited hunting and trapping. Bobcats now thrive in the state's wildest places, eating small mammals including mice, chipmunks, rats and rabbits. They are probably harassed by free-ranging pets more than they attack them.
Easily considered a Pennsylvania wildlife success story, the bobcat population has spiked since the 1990s. During the 2000-2001 season, 58 bobcats were harvested by hunters and trappers. By the 2008-2009 season, the harvest had swelled to 487 -- over 100 more than the previous season. This year, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has continued expanding the bobcat harvest area and has increased the number of permits issued.
"All of the tools we use to monitor the state's bobcat population indicate increased abundance and continued geographic expansion outside of the established harvest area," said Matthew Lovallo, Game Commission Game Mammal Section supervisor in a written statement. "The addition of Wildlife Management Unit 4D in 2008-2009 increased the available harvest area by 14 percent. Similarly, the addition of WMU 4A and 4E for the 2009-2010 season will increase the allowable harvest area by 15 percent, and will better distribute harvest throughout the established bobcat range."
Last week, the Game Commission began accepting applications for bobcat permits from holders of resident and nonresident furtaker licenses, resident and nonresident junior furtaker or combination licenses, and resident senior furtaker or lifetime combination licenses. Applications must be submitted by Sept. 1. At a public drawing on Sept. 11, the Game Commission will issue 1,780 permits -- 337 more than last year -- for the 2009-2010 bobcat hunting and trappings seasons. The hunting season runs Oct. 24-Feb. 20, 2010; trapping season is set for Oct. 25-Feb. 21, 2010. Bobcat permit applicants with 6 preference points (5 previous points and 1 for this year's application) will automatically get a permit.
From the quaint bridge in the park at the center of town, visitors watch hundreds of brown and golden rainbow trout protected in a no-fishing area of Spring Creek.
Bellefonte, a Nittany Valley town northeast of State College in Centre County, is located in the center of Pennsylvania's premier fly-fishing area, providing easy access to Spring Creek (including the nearby Fisherman's Paradise stretch), Penn's Creek, Fishing Creek, Spruce Creek the Little Juniata River and many smaller waters with healthy populations of feral brown trout. Members of PaFlyFish.com, a Web site devoted to Pennsylvania fly fishing, have selected Bellefonte 2009's Best Fly Fishing Town in Pennsylvania.
"If I would ever move somewhere close to good fly fishing, Bellefonte would be at the top of my list," said Bill Simmeth of PaFlyfish.com. "The town has all the amenities a fly fisherman could want with good restaurants, accommodations and two great fly shops nearby. Yet it still has that nice small town feel to it."
Moraine State Park near Butler recently added new docks for pontoon and sailboats at Davis Hollow Marina, where the waiting list for slips stretches to about three years. Park manager Dan Bickel said installation of new dockage for about 45 boats was completed this month. Davis Hollow can now accommodate about 285 pontoon boats and about 330 sailboats. Dry docks at Watts Bay Sailboat Dry Mooring Area, boat rentals at Crescent Bay and 10 launching ramps provide additional access to 3,225-acre Lake Arthur.
But some Davis Hollow slip holders noticed the new slips are narrower than the old ones, and some sailboats are being placed at slips with little regard for length. Assistant park manager Jeremy Rekich said the new slips provide 4 feet of clearance between boats, and longer boats are placed in slips with longer slip fingers. But in practice neither is always the case.
"There's about a foot and a half between boats if they have their fenders out," said Paul Egbert of Wind and Water Boat Works in Butler. "You should be able to cleat within 2 feet of the end of the boat -- the danger in heavy water is that the boat could swing around. You should be able to secure it so it doesn't swing in any situation. Everyone would have liked the [slip fingers] to be longer."
While Egbert calls the new docks a "net gain," he notes that Moraine's 100 off-shore moorings have been reduced to 50, and in 2010 the marina will eliminate shuttle service from the dock to boats moored off-shore.