After a Joshua Tree property owner's announcement that he'd found a bobcat trap illegally placed on his land sparked statewide outrage, a bill has been introduced into the state legislature that would end the state's nearly unregulated bobcat trapping season.
The Bobcat Protection Act of 2013 (AB 1213), introduced by Assembly member Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), would ban both trapping of bobcats and the sale of their pelts. Bobcat hunting by means other than trapping would remain legal.
The bill was introduced after Joshua Tree resident Tom O'Key's discovery of bobcat traps on his land, set there by trapper Nathan Brock, was described in an article by the Los Angeles Times' Louis Sahagun. Statewide attention to the issue ensued.
Bobcat trapping is currently legal in California during the allotted trapping season, which runs from November 24 through January 31. Licensed trappers can take any number of cats they are able to trap during that period: the only limit on the "harvest" is that the state closes the season once the total number of pelts recorded reaches 14,400. That rather arbitrary-seeming number is a fifth of the cats' statewide numbers as estimated in the late 1970s. That estimate was effectively rebutted in a court case I describe here, and no further statewide census has ever been performed. And as desert journalist Steve Brown points out in a recent article in the Sun Runner, that statewide limit of 14,400 cats means that local bobcat populations could easily be wiped out without triggering Fish and Wildlife's closing of that year's season.
If it passes, Bloom's bill would take effect on January 1, 2014, meaning that it would end the upcoming bobcat trapping season on December 31, 2013.
"Under California's antiquated trapping laws, it's perfectly legal for trappers to line the boundary of a national park with traps, kill the park's wildlife, and ship the animals' pelts to China," said Brendan Cummings, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Wildlands Program, in a press release lauding AB 1213. "Assemblyman Bloom's bill is an important step in bringing California's wildlife law into the 21st century."
Predictably, the community of bobcat trappers in California -- fewer than 200 in the state last year, according to Fish and Wildlife -- is stalwartly opposed to the bill, though a sense of defeatism seems to hang over trappers' discussions online, as witness this comment by a Virginia-based sympathizer:
No matter what efforts everybody makes, there is a ZERO percent chance of defeating this bill. Kalifornia is way to [sic] far gone. I spend alot [sic] of time there because my wife's family is from Hollywood, and the people are 80% crazy.
Those trappers on that lnked thread who aren't so pessimistic suggest that Fish and Wildlife might offer a way out of the problem by providing data to prove bobcat populations in California are being sustainably managed.
Which would be a neat trick.
Chris Clarke is an environmental writer of two decades standing. He writes from Joshua Tree regularly at his acclaimed blog Coyote Crossing and comments on desert issues on KCET weekly. Read his recent posts here and follow him on Twitter.