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Bobcats Win Partial Protection From Trapping in California

A Bay Area bobcat | Photo: maholyoak/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A year-long campaign to place serious restrictions on trapping wild bobcats in California has hit a milestone, as California's governor signed a law banning the practice near national and state parks and other areas where wildlife is protected.

Assembly Bill 1213, which Governor Jerry Brown signed on Friday, establishes a no-trapping zone in the vicinity of Joshua Tree National Park, and directs the state's Fish and Game Commission to establish similar zones around other places in the state where wildlife is protected.

The new law, which takes effect January 1, 2014, also prohibits trapping bobcats on private land without the written permission of the landowner.

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The campaign for AB 1213, also known as the Bobcat Protection Act of 2013, was prompted by a Joshua Tree resident's discovery of a bobcat trap on his land. Residents had been noticing a decline in the local bobcat population for some time. The discovery of the trap, along with local journalist Steve Brown's reporting on the trapping issue in the Twentynine Palms based magazine The Sun Runner, galvanized wildlife advocates in the Joshua Tree area and beyond.

The global price of bobcat pelts has risen dramatically in recent years, with good-sized pelts from male bobcats sometimes bringing four figures each. That's provided an incentive for increased trapping. Before Friday, the state's only limits on bobcat trapping were the season, November 24 through January 31, and a statewide limit of 14,000 cats trapped per season. Aside from those two limits, bobcat trappers could take and kill as many cats as they like, with one trapper boasting of catches of five cats a night near Joshua Tree.

As a result, the state reports that trappers took 1,499 bobcats during the 2012-2013 season, more than triple the statewide catch of 457 reported two years before. residents in Joshua Tree who'd gotten used to half a dozen regular bobcat visitors in lands adjacent to the park reported that those numbers dropped to near zero during the last trapping season.

In the version first submitted to the Assembly by Santa Monica-area Assembly member Richard Bloom, AB 1213 would have mandated a blanket prohibition on bobcat trapping statewide. Pressure from the hunting lobby forced compromise amendments that limited the ban's scope. In the version signed by Jerry Brown, trapping bobcats becomes illegal January 1 in the area inside the major highways circling Joshua Tree National Park, with the Fish and Game Commission directed to establish similarly straightforward no-trapping zones "adjacent to the boundaries of each national or state park and national monument or wildlife refuge in which bobcat trapping is prohibited."

Starting in 2016, the Commission is charged with considering similar protection of bobcats outside other conservation areas.

As we reported here at KCET earlier this year, the state's bobcat trapping program has been managed for decades based on 1970s-era bobcat population estimates that had actually been overturned in court. In his signing statement for the bill, Governor Brown announced that he will be working with the Legislature to find funding for new, more accurate surveys of just how many bobcats the state has left, and urged the Commission and the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife to update their allowable statewide bobcat take numbers based on those new surveys.

It's not the statewide ban that many bobcat fans had hoped for, and residents just outside the new no-trapping zones may find an increase in trapper activity after January 1. But it's a start to making sure the state regulates bobcat trapping more sensibly, and the proposed statewide bobcat survey promises to be another step in the right direction.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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