By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Fashion demands in Russia and China aren't having much effect on bobcats in Kansas, according to the wildlife biologist who tracks trapping.

Generally, the high-brow, fashion-conscious demand is for bobcat pelts that hail from western states, what with their higher elevations that result in longer, softer furs.

Some of those bobcat pelts have sold for as much as $550 at major fur trader auction houses.

But in Kansas, said Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks biologist Matt Peek, pelts are going for anywhere from $70 to $90 each, although a few -- sent out of state to big auction houses -- have brought nearly as much as the those from western states.

"Demand has been high here," Peek said. "Those prices are high for us."

Ultimately, some of those pelts are tanned and turned into coats fetching anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000.

Because of the high demand, animal activists have voiced concern that trapping might be a drain on existing populations.

They also criticize state wildlife officials for being unable to come up with a count of how many bobcats a state might have.

Generally, however, bobcats are considered extremely shy and secretive, sticking to areas with plenty of cover.

In Kansas, Peek said, there's almost no way to tell what the population of bobcats might be, other than through exhaustive research that even then might not give complete results.

Instead, he said, the state monitors populations through harvest data, road kills and dairies maintained by archery hunters who are able to scan forest floors from tree stands.

Peek is still compiling data from the 2008-09 trapping season, but said harvest of bobcats in the 2007-08 season amounted to about 5,700

That is a 22 percent decline from the 7,234 that were killed a year earlier.

About 1,600 people hunted bobcats in 2007-08, two-thirds of that through trapping. Bobcats were killed in all but three Kansas counties, Thomas, Greeley and Lane.

Because bobcats can be confused with other endangered species, they must be pelt tagged before they can leave Kansas, a process that provides information to KDWP about hunting the elusive cat.

Even though there was a sharp decline in the size of the harvest a year ago, Peek said harvest has generally been increasing over recent years.

"Bobcat populations have been generally increasing for a number of years," he said.

Much of that increase has been coming from the western half of the state.

In 2000, only about 200 animals came from northwest Kansas. In 2006, that number had increased to more than 1,500 before dropping slightly last year.

"You can come up with wild estimates," Peek said, "based on harvest rates."

Generally, it's thought that a harvest rate of 20 percent to 25 percent will start to hurt population numbers. Based on harvest data, he said, killing 6,000 to 7,000 bobcats a year likely would be below that 20-percent threshold.

Kansas is a difficult state to estimate numbers.

"We have a broad range of habitat," he said, pointing to forested areas in eastern Kansas to riparian areas in the west. "So density varies by area."

Generally, eastern Kansas has a higher density of bobcats compared to the west.

Harvest is perhaps strongest in the central part of the state, however.

That is where tree invasion is perhaps most responsible for the increase.

Bobcats stick close to cover, especially woody areas.

Conservation Reserve Program acres have also been of benefit, providing cover that is not typically available.

"Not to mention rabbits and rodents," Peek said.

CRP in western Kansas, he said, doesn't have adequate height to afford the cover bobcats need.

"But it breaks up a landscape that was predominately agriculture," he said.