California may limit bobcat trapping


California last took tally of its bobcat population in 1981, when officials counted 74,000 cats. With the demand for bobcat pelts reportedly soaring in Asian markets, conservationists argue the state is flying blind in allowing trapping to continue at current levels without a clear idea of how many bobcats remain.

On June 13, the state Senate natural resources committee received a bill that would direct the Fish and Wildlife Commission to create no-trapping zones in and around any state or national park, monument, or wildlife refuge. It would expressly stop bobcat trapping around Joshua Tree National Park.

The specific attention paid in the bill to Joshua Tree stems from a controversy that erupted there in 2012. Local activist Tom O’Key found a trap set on his property by Nathan Brock, a Marine stationed nearby who told the local paper he caught five bobcats in one night.

Brendan Cummings, an environmental attorney who lives in Joshua Tree, said locals noticed the disappearance of certain bobcats before O’Key started the community uproar.

“One person I know had been observing a multi-generation family of bobcats that occupied the land she owns on the park boundary for close to a decade,” he said. “Seven of the eight bobcats disappeared this past trapping season.”

Assembly Bill 1213 passed its first floor vote May 30 after sponsor Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) scaled back his original proposal to ban bobcat trapping statewide.

The California Trappers Association opposes A.B. 1213. So does Mercer Lawing, a trapper who makes many of the cage traps used in California since the Legislature banned leghold traps in 1998.

“It is still a sloppy, ill conceived bill being promoted with lies and misrepresentations from the supporters,” Lawing wrote in an e-mail.

Lawing refused a phone interview because he said he received hate mail from bill supporters after reporters took a few of his statements out of context.

Although Fish and Wildlife can only guess the number of bobcats in California, the agency knows the number taken by hunters and trappers increased 51 percent to more than 1,800 last season. Bill supporters blame the recent emergence of bobcat fur as a Chinese fashion trend. According to a legislative report, the price of pelts increased from $79 in 2009 to as much as $700 in 2011.

Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), who represents San Luis Obispo County, sits on the committee that will vote on A.B. 1213 on June 26.

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