Long struggle leads to big win for bobcats
In early 2013, Tom O’Key discovered an illegally placed bobcat trap on his property near Joshua Tree National Park. He left a note for the trapper, and took the trap to the sheriff’s office. He also contacted his local radio station and newspaper who got on the story and stirred up the residents of that area. Many were already aware that local bobcats were disappearing at an alarming rate. That incident sparked a movement that has, more than two years later, culminated in banning the trapping and commercial trade in bobcats in the state of California.
Up until now, bobcat trapping was nearly unregulated in the state. While there was a season, people could trap as many bobcats as they wanted to. At Joshua Tree they would lure them out of the park, where they were protected, with scents and other attractants.
Bobcats were being targeted for their pelts, which were going to the luxury fur markets in China and Russia. Bobcat fur was previously considered a low-value pelt, but as other spotted cats got placed on the Endangered Species List, bobcat pelts became more valuable. Pelts were going for $200-$700 and up only to be made into purses and slippers for foreign markets. While there were only three bobcat trappers in the Joshua Tree area, they nearly decimated the local population. When so few can do so much damage, laws really need to change.
Within a month of the illegal trap discovery, enough people were enraged enough that they were able to get Assemblyman Richard Bloom to introduce the Bobcat Protection Bill, AB1213. They originally tried to go for a statewide ban, but, as so often happens in politics, had to settle for less. The bill would prohibit the commercial trapping of bobcats in buffer zones adjacent to national and state parks, national monuments or wildlife refuges. Another provision was that the fees for trapping had to cover the cost of the program, which they had not previously done.
AB1213 was signed into law by Governor Brown on Oct. 11, 2013, and would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.
After a slow start it soon became apparent that the Department of Fish and Wildlife was having a difficult time coming up with the buffer zones, the cost to the department of monitoring them, and dealing with a majority of the public who were still hoping for a total ban. Over this past year I attended several Fish and Game Commission meetings and spoke for a total ban. It would be the Commission, rather than the Department that would make the final decision. In the few years that I have been attending Commission meetings, there has been a sea change. Originally the room was filled with hunters and trappers and I felt very uncomfortable being there. Ever so slowly they have been outnumbered by citizen scientists, people who prefer to see their wildlife alive rather than dead, and conservationists,both professional and individual.
The Fish & Game Commission has traditionally been a sort of good ole’ boys club that was in total support of fishermen, hunters and trappers. The Commissioners are appointed by the Governor. A sea change seems to be happening there as well. Just one month before the final decision was to be made on bobcat trapping, Governor Brown appointed two new Commissioners to replace two whose terms had expired. Everyone who had worked so long and hard on this issue immediately became nervous about two new, unknown people who had to be swayed in favor of the bobcat.
Finally, on Aug. 5, at a jam packed Commission meeting held in Fortuna, the final vote occurred. By my count, there were over 100 public speakers – that’s huge for a meeting like this – supporting a statewide ban. About six spoke against it. In addition, the DFW received over 25,000 comments, letters and signatures urging a statewide ban. There were representative there from The Center for Biological Diversity, Project Coyote, Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Mountain Lion Foundation and many, many more.
The two new Commissioners had reviewed everything from the previous meetings, and going against the Department’s recommendation of trapping zones rather than a total ban, they both voted in favor of a statewide ban. The President of the Commission sided with them. The final vote was 3/2. Both of the new Commissioners spoke very intelligently and eloquently at the meeting. I think there is reason for optimism for California’s wildlife.
And so, our precious bobcats, a top predator in this state, will no longer have to fear being trapped. California is the first state in the nation to ban all commercial trapping of bobcats. Once again, we see that Californians care about their wildlife. And once again, we see what a small group of dedicated people did to turn this into a statewide issue. Let’s hear it for the bobcats – they need their fur more than anyone else does!
Sharon Ponsford is a Glen Ellen resident and longtime volunteer with Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue.