California reins in killing of bobcats for fur

Bobcat3aaa

Photo courtesy of www.skullsunlimited.com

It’s now illegal to use traps to capture bobcats in California for sport or to hunt them in any fashion for the purpose of making coats and clothing accessories out of their pretty pelts.

The ban, approved in August by the California Fish and Game Commission, took effect Friday.

It does not affect using weapons to hunt the bob-tailed wildcats for recreation, or trapping them if they eat domestic farm animals or pets. But the ban is nevertheless expected to substantially reduce the number of bobcats that are legally killed each year in California, said Camilla Fox, executive director of Project Coyote, one of many animal protection groups that pushed for the ban on trapping the wildcats.

“I think a driving force behind the killing is the pelt prices,” she said. Much of the demand for the fur reportedly comes from China and Russia.

During the last bobcat hunting season, commercial fur trappers killed most of the 987 bobcats “taken” in California, according to state wildlife department statistics in the 2014-15 Bobcat Harvest Assessment. Of those, 760 were trapped for their fur. The average price per bobcat pelt for the season was $191, according to the report.

Five of the bobcats killed last season were hunted in Sonoma County; 18 were in Mendocino County; and 19 in Lake County, according to the wildlife department. Only one — in Lake County — of those was for its fur, according to the wildlife department report.

The hot spots for bobcat takes in California included Kern County, with 197; Modoc County with 100; and Los Angeles with 63. The highest numbers of bobcats killed for their pelts were in the Southern California region, with 215; northeastern California, with 178; the south Sierras, 145; and the eastern Sierras, 111, state wildlife data show.

Chris Brennan, a federal wildlife trapper in Mendocino County, said the Southern California desert bobcat is a particularly desirable catch because of its pale coat and dark spots. It’s also bigger than its darker-hued cousins to the north, weighing in at as much as 55 pounds, 14 pounds more than the largest male typically found in Mendocino County, he said. Bobcats typically are about twice the size of an average house cat.

bobcat-mother-and-kittens-north-america-tim-fitzharris

Photo courtesy of http://kimcampion.com

The numbers of bobcats killed annually in the state has fluctuated over the years but has been on the decline since the 1970s. About 14,400 bobcats were killed for their pelts in the 1978-79 hunting season, according to state wildlife statistics.

The fluctuations likely have been influenced by a number of factors, including court cases challenging hunts, changing regulations — including bans on toothed traps and dogs, which made it more difficult to catch the elusive, nocturnal animals — and pelt pricing. The average price of a bobcat pelt has ranged from a high of $390 for the 2013-14 season to a low of $17.91 in 1986-87, according to the wildlife department.

The number of bobcats killed annually since 1990 has hovered between 2,000 and 1,000.

There are no current studies on the numbers of bobcats in the wild, but it’s widely believed to be a healthy population in the state.

Brennan estimated there are “hundreds of thousands.”

Nationally, there may be as many as a million bobcats, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Hunting organizations contend there’s no danger of depleting the populations of the wild cats and opposed the ban. The lobbyist for the groups could not be reached Friday for comment.

Fox conceded the ban is not based on data showing the hunts endangered the animals.

“Science wasn’t part of the discussion,” she said. “This really did become an ethical debate.”

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MendoReporter.

This article originally was from http://www.pressdemocrat.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *