Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Should you be afraid of bobcats?

We at the Habitat Authority have gotten several calls over the years from local residents or hikers asking this very question. It is understandable for people to be afraid of things they are not familiar with, and given the relatively reclusive and secretive nature of bobcats, most people never see bobcats.

Some people are afraid of bobcats because they associate them with mountain lions. It is true that they are both wild felines. However, bobcats are much smaller than mountain lions (about 10 times smaller), and are only about the size of a beagle or about twice the size of an average housecat. (They also look quite different, with bobcats having short “bobbed” tails and a striped or spotted body, whereas mountain lions have a very long tail and are a uniform tan color). Given their small size, they also eat smaller prey than mountain lions; bobcats generally eat rabbits or rodents, while mountain lions almost exclusively eat deer.

Although there are rare reports of mountain lion attacks on people (none in the Puente Hills area), there are almost no records of bobcat attacks on people. The few credible reports that do exist generally have to do with a rabid bobcat, which is quite unusual. No reports of rabid wildlife of any kind have been reported to the Habitat Authority.

Bobcats, like mountain lions, generally avoid people and areas inhabited by people. They tend to be found less often along trails with higher recreational activity, and they often shift their activity to occur at nighttime in areas frequented by people in an effort to avoid them. Bobcat home ranges occur much more frequently in natural habitat compared to areas within or near developed areas.

If you see a bobcat in your neighborhood, it probably means that you have a lot of natural vegetation in the area. If there are a lot of rabbits or rodents in your neighborhood gardens, that might also attract bobcats. If you want to keep bobcats or other wildlife out of your yard, consider installing fencing around your immediate use area, make sure to clean up fallen fruit or other potential food items (trash, bird seed) that might attract rodents, keep small pets indoors and/or closely supervised, and never intentionally provide food or water to wildlife.

There is no reason to fear bobcats, but bobcats have plenty of reasons to fear us. In most remaining natural areas in southern California, bobcats have to face many challenges in order to survive. One major challenge is crossing numerous busy roads safely. Another challenge is not becoming infected with diseases which could be passed on from other animals or even domestic pets, and not eating rodents that have been poisoned; rat poisons contain anticoagulants and are shown to have a possible association with a disease called mange. Another challenge is finding large enough patches of habitat that are relatively free from human disturbance in order to live and rear their young.

If you do see a bobcat, you should consider yourself very lucky! Seeing a bobcat is a good way to remind us of the wildness that is still present in our area.
(Photo credits: top - Doug Wolfe, drawing - Cougar Network, time-stamped - Puente Hills Habitat Preservation Authority)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What’s Lurking in your Firewood?

With winter just around the corner, you may be starting to buy firewood. But besides the usual critters that hang out with firewood, such as spiders or scorpions, there may be another, much more dangerous threat that is too small to see. That threat is from a small beetle, called the gold-spotted oak borer. As its name suggests, it bores into oak trees, and it eats away at their critical vascular tissue, eventually killing them. As of 2010, this beetle has killed an estimated 21,500 trees covering 1,893 square miles in San Diego County in forests, parks, and residential landscapes.

Fortunately, there are no known occurrences of the gold-spotted oak borer in Los Angeles or Orange Counties. Unfortunately, it is known to occur in not-too-distant San Diego County. If firewood from oak trees in San Diego County is transported elsewhere, it could spread the gold-spotted oak borer into new areas. When firewood is harvested, the beetle may be present in its larval stage, feeding off of the oak’s tissue beneath the bark. When that oak that becomes firewood, the beetle is transported along with the firewood. By late spring, the beetle transforms into its adult stage, with wings, and it flies out of the wood to find new oak trees on which to lay eggs. These eggs hatch into larvae, which bore into the new oak tree, and the cycle begins again.

Currently, there is no known effective remedy or treatment for the gold-spotted oak borer. Sometimes infested oak trees must be killed before others are affected. Our native coast live oak trees not only help to define the beauty and naturalness of the Puente Hills area, but also provide food and shelter for numerous invertebrates, birds, and mammals. Their importance is reflected by the fact that they are considered a protected tree species by Los Angeles County, and oak woodlands are also protected by the State. Oaks also provide shade for homes, and can even add to property values. Oaks continue to be lost to land development and other impacts, and it is important to retain and protect the remnant patches that remain. Therefore, the best hope we have in protecting our oak trees from further loss due to the gold-spotted oak borer is to prevent it from getting here in the first place. Please, check on the source of your firewood before you buy it, and avoid buying oak firewood from San Diego County. Or, if you have already purchased wood from there, burn it right away and burn it thoroughly. Help protect the beauty and natural value provided by our native coast live oaks.

For more information, visit these websites:

(photo credit for picture of gold-spotted oak borer:

(photo credit for picture of firewood: