Bobcat photo taken November 28, 2013, by a Fernald Preserve trail camera.

The Fernald Preserve boasts over 10,000 visitors each year. Lately, many of the visitors to the site have been on the lookout for the elusive bobcat (Lynx rufus). Bobcats were found throughout the state of Ohio in early settlement times, primarily concentrated in the large, lowland areas of the southeastern portion of the state. As swamps and lowlands were drained and forests cleared to make way for settlements, the bobcat population declined. By 1850, they were considered absent from the state. From 1850 through the 1960s there were occasional reports of bobcats, mainly in eastern Ohio. Today, however, the re-established bobcat is officially classified as a threatened species in the state and provided full protection under the law.

Seeing a bobcat in the wild is a rare occurrence. They are reclusive, nocturnal animals that avoid developed areas. Sightings in southwest Ohio, where the Fernald Preserve is located, are especially rare. In fall 2012, a site security guard reported seeing a bobcat. Knowing their status in Ohio and thinking that no one would believe him, the guard was reluctant to report the sighting, but site personnel did believe him and placed motion-sensitive trail cameras in areas thought to be favorable habitat for bobcats.

On October 9, 2012, one of those trail cameras snapped a picture of a bobcat. Since then, numerous sightings have been reported by eyewitnesses and trail cameras have taken additional photos and videos of the elusive animal. The reports were the first live, verified sightings of bobcats in Butler County, Ohio.

First bobcat photo taken October 9, 2012, by a Fernald Preserve trail camera.

Since 1970, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife (DOW) officials have tracked the state’s bobcat recovery. The increasing population has resulted in 796 verified bobcat sightings, with most reports made from 2000 to present (see Figure 1); the majority in southeast Ohio (see Figure 2). Reports from 2012 document 90 photographs, 50 roadkills, 11 sightings by Ohio DOW staff or other qualified personnel, 14 incidentally trapped bobcats, 2 observations of tracks, and 2 bobcats that died of unknown causes.

Figure 1. Number of verified bobcat sightings
in Ohio from 1990 to 2012.
Statistics from Ohio DOW.
 Figure 2. Ohio DOW–verified bobcat
sightings in Ohio by county, from
1970 to 2012.

Suzanne Prange, PhD, Ohio DOW Wildlife Research Biologist stated that sightings at the Fernald Preserve are a positive indication of bobcat population recovery in Ohio, “the Fernald videos are wonderful and provide evidence of reproduction, which is very valuable. Yes, bobcats once occurred throughout the state when it was largely forested. I hope they will occur throughout the state again one day, although their distribution will likely be patchy and coincide with patches of forest and good corridors.”

Ecological restoration at the Fernald Preserve has established a system of wetland and open-water habitats with supporting woodlands and grasslands. Site restoration was integrated into remediation and final land use, and a series of projects were completed on over 900 acres of the 1,050-acre site. While none of the projects were initiated specifically to promote bobcat habitat at the site, many did improve conditions for the species. Developing native prairies and removing invasive vegetation from woodland areas supported an increase in rodent, small mammal, and bird populations on site. This increase in the bobcat food source, an abundant water supply (ponds, vernal pools, and streams), and denning sites (downed trees, overhangs, constructed brush piles, and abandoned holes) have made the Fernald Preserve an attractive area for bobcats.

Planting projects have expanded site woodland and edge shrubland habitat, increasing the available cover for bobcats. The removal of honeysuckle and other invasive shrubs has improved mobility within these areas. Much of the area is isolated from human activity and adjacent green-space land acts as an extension of the site. It’s no wonder that these felines are finding the Fernald Preserve a welcoming habitat, and the site is helping to support more than one bobcat.

Valuable information about the bobcats’ preferred habitats and den sites will continue to be gathered using trail cameras and tracking. Collected data is evaluated and used to determine where more habitat improvements can be made to support the maximum number of bobcats. Photos and videos also provide insight into the habits and interrelationships of bobcat families.

Fernald Preserve staff will continue to monitor and maintain crucial habitat at the site. Field personnel balance protection of habitat while providing access to the public. Dr. Prange expressed that “bobcats are not a threat to humans and will avoid dogs, so I don’t think hikers have anything to worry about in regard to bobcats and safety,” assuring us that their presence does not pose any danger to visitors who walk the site trails.