Seach, rescue, a bobcat and a (real) cougar

Woods, Water & Wildlife
June 23. 2012 8:28PM

Lost and injured hikers, a bobcat killed in the road and yet another multiple-person sighting of a mountain lion were in last week's news.

New Hampshire Union Leader reporter Bill Smith did a nice job in last week's New Hampshire Sunday News of illustrating the long-running unfairness of who pays for search-and-rescue operations. The issue came to the fore again earlier this month after a spate of missions to help people who were careless, unprepared, woefully ill-informed - or a combination of all three.

The vast majority of people who are the objects of search-and-rescue missions pay no license or registration fees, while people who hunt, fish or use off-road vehicles - and are far less likely to need help - pay for saving other outdoor users' bacon through license fees and taxes on equipment.

I've served on a couple of commissions over the years that sought to address this issue, but while the thought was good, the how of it remained elusive. 'Hiker' can be a pretty loose definition (is a tourist walking up to Arethusa Falls a 'hiker'?), and if a permit were required, who would collect it and where? Should mandatory membership in an insured club be the means, as is often the case in Europe? 'Unenforceable' comes to mind. How about an excise tax on hiking, climbing and canoeing equipment that's similar to the tax on hunting and fishing gear? Hiking and climbing groups have paid lip-service to stepping up to the plate on this, but somehow never have. Time to hold their feet to the fire?

Fish and Game's latest initiative is that anyone searched for and/or rescued (except for hunters and fishermen, who already pay) be given a basic sliding-scale bill, geared to the cost of each mission. It could bring in more than $100,00 a year - not enough, by any means, but at least a start down the trail toward fairness.

On to bobcats. One was killed along Route 125 in Kingston last week, and media reports were on a par with the landing of an alien spacecraft. No cause for surprise or alarm, however, the New Hampshire Union Leader's story pointed out - bobcats are neither rare nor dangerous. They are, in fact, on the rise - for reasons researchers are trying to ascertain.

Bobcats are found in every part of New Hampshire, but are elusive and largely nocturnal and thus are seldom seen. They typically weigh up to 40 pounds, but are usually much smaller. They prey chiefly on rabbits and smaller mammals, although they will occasionally take deer and, of course, cats and small dogs.

As their name implies, bobcats have a short, or bobbed, tail and thus are hard to confuse with any other animal their size. They can leap up to 12 feet and sprint at 30 mph. During mating season in late winter, they tend to do a lot of screeching, the classic definition of 'caterwauling.' In Colonial days, they were lumped into the general definition of 'wildcats.' A a University of New Hampshire article on them noted, with their ferocity, elusiveness and strong sense of territory, bobcats truly put the 'wild' in 'wildcats.'

And finally, on the subject of wildcats comes this missive from a reader in the Lakes Region:

'Just wanted to let you know that my wife, her sister, our daughter and niece just came back from a trip to WalMart bouncing off the walls. It seems that they saw a mountain lion run across the road, sort of like squirrels playing chicken with cars. It was REAL close!

'I pulled up pictures on the Internet of mountain lions, as well as bobcats, (we've had one of those in the yard and know what they are) and they all swear it was a mountain lion. A fat, muscular, big, stocky, very healthy-looking cat. They claimed it was as big as our 100-lb. black Lab.

'We live in the southern tip of Alton and they were on Ridge Top Road in New Durham around house number 106-109 at about 1:45 in the afternoon. If you get any other sightings around there, add this one to it, add four more believers that they are here and we'll be watching out for it again.'

I asked why there was no mention of a long tail, the usual dead giveaway for a cougar, and the reader's wife wrote right back that the animal did indeed have a very long tail.

John Harrigan's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. His address is Box 39, Colebrook 03576. Email him at

John Harrigan

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