Bobcat trapping banned; <yawn> who’s ox is next to be gored by the state
By JIM MATTHEWS
By now, most of you know that bobcat trapping was banned statewide in California by the Fish and Game Commission at its meeting Aug. 5 in Fortuna. The Commission vote was 3-2 in favor of the ban.
What the Commission has done is discrimination. Just because a mob of vocal people chanting and wearing funny face masks were for the ban, just because there was a petition with 30,000 supposed signatures, just because you find it viscerally distasteful, that is no reason for the Fish and Game Commission to ban trapping of bobcats. It’s not about us becoming a “more enlightened” or “more evolved” society. It’s not about the cuteness of bobcat kittens.
It should be about science. Would you support a ban on driving faster than 10 miles per hour on all of the state’s roadways so bobcats aren’t hit by vehicles? Then why would you support banning less than 300 trappers from catching bobcats for fur. At least they are utilizing those bobcat furs and using the money to put their kids through school, pay taxes, or make a donation at church. When you run over a bobcat, the only thing that happens is you feel badly.
Do you feel better now?
If it matters to you, here are the facts about bobcat trapping in California:
In the early 1980s, as many at 3,900 annual trapping licenses were sold in California, largely driven by the price of bobcat fur on the marketplace. Prime individual pelts could sell for $350 or more and the average price was more than $100. The total number of bobcats taken by trappers in those years was under 9,000 per year. No one noticed a decline in bobcat numbers. By the mid-1990s, the number of annual trapping licenses had dropped down to around 300 and the average bobcat pelt price was less than $25 per pelt.
During this time the annual revenue generated by bobcat pelts went from over $1 million to less than $50,000 per year. That is the total revenue for all trappers from bobcats.
In 1998, leg-hold traps were banned in California as inhumane (that’s a whole another story, but the fact is leg-hold traps are one of the most humane traps you can use for bobcats), mandating the use of box traps (which also capture the animal live and are also humane). Trapping license sales dropped nearly 50 percent the first year after the ban and continued to decline until the mid-2000s.
During the 2013-14 trapping season (the last year the Department of Fish and Wildlife posted a report), there were just 267 trapping licenses sold -- a dramatic increase from the previous five or six seasons when around 150 had been sold. Why the increase? The average price paid for a bobcat pelt had jumped to $390. Even at that price, only about 1,200 bobcats were taken by trappers in California that season.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists, knowing the productivity of bobcats and the limited scope of the trapping program, felt the fur harvest had no impact on the bobcat population. Since the mid-1980s, the DFW has had a harvest quota of 14,000 bobcats annually, which has never come close to being filled. An old population estimate places the bobcat population in California at around 75,000, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has estimated the population nationwide at between 700,000 and 1.5 million, and the most recent estimates of the nationwide harvest for pelts is around 40,000. The trapping harvest is a tiny, insignificant number that in no way affects the bobcat population. Drought has a bigger impact. In fact, it is probably safe to assume that more bobcats are killed on the state’s roadways. Those are the facts.
But now we have a statewide trapping ban – not based on science, but on emotion and politics. This has been building for some time. A bill was passed in 2013 that banned trapping around the perimeter of Joshua Tree National Park when residents there discovered legal trapping was taking place. The good part of the bill was that it called for the state legislature to secure funding so the DFW could do an accurate statewide bobcat population survey and estimate. That kind of data is always good to have (and the trappers were sure it would prove they weren’t having an impact on the population). Of course, that money was never allocated. So the anti-trappers simply started pounding the drum louder and longer. A group called Project Coyote collected 30,000 signatures on a petition pushing for the ban.
Early in July, the governor replaced two controversial commissioners, both serving on expired terms, both surrounded by conflict-of-interest and corruption claims, and both in favor of a statewide bobcat trapping ban, so it was completely up in the air about how Wednesday’s vote would go. But the two new commissioners voted with the outspoken anti-trapping chairman of the commission, Jack Bayliss. New commissioners, Anthony C. Williams and Eric Sklar mysteriously voted for the ban, while commissioners Jim Kellogg and Jacque Hostler-Carmesin voted against the ban because they didn’t feel they had enough scientific information to make a decision.
Now it appears Williams and Sklar were chosen by the Governor specifically to pass this ban. It seems the governor’s wife, Anne Gust, is best friends with Jennifer Fearing, the state director the Human Society of the United States (HSUS). Fearing, who walked the Brown’s dog until it caused controversy, hates all things trapping and hunting, and the bobcat trapping ban was one of her pet projects. In 2013, the San Francisco Chronicle noted that all six of the HSUS-sponsored bills in the state legislature were passed and signed by the governor, including a needless statewide ban on lead ammunition for hunting.
New commissioner Williams said this at the meeting: “Before we make a decision to allow destruction of a natural resource, we should have the science to support that as a practice. I don’t think that burden has been met.”
Even our squishy DFW director couldn’t let that comment about “destruction” stand. Chuck Bonham said this before the commission vote: “Bobcats are the most widespread and adaptive carnivores in the state next to coyotes. There is no evidence that a ban on bobcat trapping is needed to protect bobcat populations.” Way to go Chuck.
Not that the DFW is without blame in all this. The bill that banned trapping in a buffer around Joshua Tree called for a study to determine the statewide population. The DFW could have initiated that on its own, taking funds from other programs, but it didn’t. (To their defense, we are only talking about a couple of hundred trappers. Is it worth it to spend really limited funds, especially if they have to use money stolen from other programs instead of “new” money provided by the legislature?)
Hector Barajas, a spokesman for the California Trappers Association, said that when the governor signed the bobcat law, “he wanted the commission to develop the science to implement it properly. Two and a half years later, they still haven’t done that.”
But would it have really mattered in this political climate? I get frustrated by the average person who buys into the emotional claptrap said and published about issues like this. Here’s are some quotes from media reports on the ban:
“The bobcat is another animal that deserves respect, also on behalf of Native Americans. Native Americans hold these animals sacred,” said Randal Massaro with Union Members for the Preservation of Wildlife, in one story.
So Randal, should we also ban the raising and killing of pork in this country because some cultures and religions consider them sacred? Or -- on the other side of the equation -- do we go back to allowing the unlimited killing of eagles by some native Americans because they use the feathers in their religious customs?
Massaro also asked why “taxpayers dollars being spent to support trapping and hunting.”
This is when I want to start calling people names. Hunting and trapping license fees are using to fund all of the state wildlife programs with no money coming from the general fund -- his tax dollars. But to uniformed people that makes sense and non-hunters and non-trappers say to themselves, “Yea, to heck with those guys. Those are my tax dollars.”
Another quote: "The vote today is historic and shows California's national leadership in wildlife protection," said Camilla Fox, head of the group Project Coyote. "This victory will help protect California's native bobcats from the insatiable international fur market where individual bobcat pelts can sell for as much as $1,000 per pelt."
Wow. She gets everything wrong. This has nothing to do with wildlife protection or she would have been howling after the legislature to get the science done so we’d know the facts. There is no “insatiable” international fur market that I can find, just fashion trends that jog up and down over time. And there may have been one or two pelts that sold for $1,000, but as noted above, most have gone for a third that in the best of years. She lies for her agenda.
Assemblyman Richard Hershel Bloom (D-Santa Monica), author of the recent bobcat act and one of more than 100 public speakers at the commission hearing, piped in about the vote:
“It… demonstrated a growing awareness about how we treat native wildlife in California. There’s a big difference, for example, between hunting a game animal and taking home to eat it, and trapping an animal for commercial purposes and doing it in a way that causes a long painful death.”
You have to ask if the animal understands the hair he is trying to split. And what “long painful death”? What is he talking about? The animal is trapped in a cage. I have been with trappers using box traps. Frequently the animals are asleep when you come up. So what is he doing? He’s playing on emotion. Tugging at heart strings. Why? Because there’s no science to support the ban.
As part of the testimony in support of the ban, Dr. Rick Hopkins, Project Coyote’s science advisor and conservation biologist said, “While sport hunting or killing of predators is often touted a management tool, it rarely is. In essence we manage for the sport hunt, not by it.”
I agree with Hopkins on this. He’s absolutely right. And there is nothing wrong with this.
We do the same thing when permitting timber harvests, allowing cattle grazing on public lands, setting commercial quotas on sardine or anchovy catches off the coast. We do this for oil drilling on public lands, solar plants, and wind mills. We do it when permitting housing tracts or roadways. We do this with all sport fishing, hunting, and trapping seasons. Yes, we are managing for the end result that benefits humans. Hopefully, we are going about it in a way that doesn’t come at the expense of the resource. That is called science-based management. Management for trapping or hunting shouldn’t be any different than for any other use of the resource.
Unfortunately, we don’t do management based on science any longer. We do it based on politics. Things that harm resources far more than trapping are ignored (like my example about the number of bobcats killed on roads). The big deveopment or solar projects go through even when the impacts are huge. One of the species we “protected” with the statewide ban on lead hunting ammunition, were golden eagles, according to the advocates of that bill. Simple fact: Far more golden eagles are killed by windmills at big power plants than lead poisoning, but we allow the windmills.
So changes like this trapping ban and lead ammunition ban ultimately come down to discrimination sanctioned and engineered by the state. You don’t like trappers or hunters, so you encourage the government to ban that activity.
Apparently, you don’t see that the next goring is your ox.