When Lines Were Crossed

 

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It was in January of 2013 that Joshua Tree resident Tom O’Key discovered a baited and set bobcat trap as it sat camouflaged beneath a jojoba shrub on his private property. Within 24 hours the wheels were set in motion and a sleeping giant began to stir. Phone calls were made, the sheriff was notified and the objectionable trap was delivered to a local newspaper where the trapper was instructed to retrieve it. Upon retrieval of the trap, a local man was questioned by the Hi-Desert Star newspaper which reported that he spoke of setting 30 traps and nabbing five bobcats in a single night.

This story originally appeared in a past issue of Dezert magazine

The idea that someone could trespass on to another’s private property for the purpose of setting a trap to catch and kill a beloved bobcat near the boundary of Joshua Tree national Park infuriated residents of Joshua Tree and the Morongo Basin. It was at this point that the basin community realized that a line had been crossed. Bobcat advocate Annica Kreuter had been monitoring the activities of bobcats visiting her property along the boundary of the national park for nearly 10 years. She had noted that seven of eight cats had not been seen of late and conferred with neighbor Brendan Cummings who is senior council for the Center for Biological Diversity (a national non-profit organization). Before long, a group of concerned conservationists and wildlife supporters convened in Joshua Tree and a “Project Bobcat” committee was formed to protect the targeted bobcats and put an end to the legal trapping of “unlimited” numbers of bobcats during the November 24 to January 31 trapping season.

Kim Stringfellow, Joshua Tree resident and associate Professor at San Diego State University upped the website Project Bobcat.org and it soon began informing visitors of related stories and offering action alerts. news articles began to appear in the L.a. Times, the Desert-Sun, on KCET and other outlets as petitions began to circulate. Facebook pages lit up with posts and “shares” of opinion, supporting information and images of beautiful bobcats as well as other grotesque images showing dozens of tapped and killed bobcats displayed in unflattering fashion.

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Bobcat and rattler

 

In late February legislation was introduced. Santa Monica assembly member Richard Bloom brought forth “the Bobcat Protection act of 2013,” (AB 1213), known in Sacramento as “the Bloom Bill.” Trappers united in protest of the newly introduced legislation. Their claims suggested that bobcat populations were healthy and that trapping was a worthy avocation offering both financial benefits and an enjoyable family activity. They stood by the laws which deemed their activities legal, giving them a “sense of liberty.”

Wildlife supporters argued that Department of fish and Wildlife estimates of bobcat populations were decades old and unreliable. They railed against the use of pheromones and battery operated gadgets (that are covered in feathers to mimic bird life) being used as lures to capture bobcats. Many were upset that bobcat pelts were being harvested for financial gain alone and that relatively few were killing far too many cats and selling pelts for $300-700 and more to be used in Chinese, Russian, Korean and Greek fur and fashion industries. The “Trapping Today” website lists the average price paid for a bobcat pelt at a recent North American show as $572 with some selling for more than $1000.

In recent years the number of trapped bobcats has seen a sharp rise. This is due to the higher prices being paid for pelts. growing middle classes in both China and Russia have created larger markets for luxury fur coats. Currently, bobcat pelts fetch a higher price than any other north American mammal specie. Innovative technologies as applied to trap designs, has also played a significant role. Today, one can buy traps that fit inside of traps that fit inside of traps so that many more units can be transported in a single vehicle. even popular internet websites such as ebay allow trappers to sell pelts to an audience of millions. The opportunities to “cash in” have brought trappers out of retirement.

 

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Bobcat perched on a stump.

On April 2, the Bloom Bill received its first hearing in Sacramento and a few Morongo Basin residents traveled to speak at the hearing. The bill was put on hold as lawmakers sought opinion from the Department fish and Wildlife and the State fish and game Commission who oversee trapping activities. action alerts posted by ProjectBobcat.org urged site visitors to make their opinions known to the assembly. On April 30, Cummings and O’Key led a delegation of twenty to Sacramento and AB 1213 passed in the Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife that same day. it would need to pass through the appropriations Committee before advancing to the Assembly floor.

By mid-May, the Bloom Bill had passed appropriations and was able to achieve passage by the full assembly at the end of the month. Backers of the bill were encouraged by a letter of support offered by San Bernardino County Supervisor James Ramos and an endorsement by the town of Yucca Valley. it was on to the State Senate and the stakes were mounting day-by-day. As each side jockeyed for press coverage, Project Bobcat members unleashed a flurry of supporting activities on social media. The first of two “Save Our Bobcats” events was staged at Casa Dari, in Joshua Tree, to raise awareness and encourage contact with legislators. The June 22 event attracted 230 attendees and combined live music, bobcat art and prizes while updated information was presented by Project Bobcat spokesperson Victoria fuller. Hundreds of signed, supportive letters were generated and distributed to targeted lawmakers.

Again, the popularity of Facebook benefited supporters as event-related posts and images were seen by thousands and pleas to support the legislation spread like wildfire. On June 25, the Bobcat Protection Act passed the Senate Committee on natural resources and Water and headed for approval by the Senate appropriations Committee.

Meanwhile, back in the Mojave, “Joshua Tree: BoBCaT… Capital of the World” t-shirts began to show up at events and were ordered by supporters from around the state and country. film maker Marcus DeLeon of the Tucson Wildlife Center produced short illustrating the “Project Bobcat Story.” DeLeon’s touching video became accessible on the internet and DVD’s were produced and delivered to the State Capitol.

A second “Save our Bobcats” event was slated for August 3 to generate even more letters and raise funds for postage and additional lobbying efforts. at Rancho del Vida Dulce, in Yucca Valley, musicians came from as far away as the Bay area to support the cause. Project Bobcat members were on- hand to deliver much anticipated updates to those in attendance.

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Bobcat in morning light

After hanging in “suspense” for a couple of weeks, AB 1213 was approved in the appropriations Committee and gained passage to the full Senate floor. Project Bobcat members continued to visit State Senators on a frequent basis. on September9, the Bobcat Protection act of 2013 passed its final legislative hurdle and was sent to the office of Governor Jerry Brown for signage into law. Supporters then focused their attentions upon the governor’s office. His Sacramento office was visited repeatedly while letters and phone calls flooded in.

On October 11, the legislation awaiting enactment was signed into law. There will now be a “no Bobcat Trapping” buffer zone created around Joshua Tree national Park beginning on January 1, 2014. Trapping will be prohibited inside the triangular area framed by interstate 10 and Highways 62 and 177 outside of the national park boundary. Any bobcat trapping on private property would necessitate written permission from the property owner. The State fish and game Commission would be directed to set trapping fees which would offset costs incurred by the Department of
fish and Wildlife and the Commission in implementing and enforcing the program. in addition, many other protective buffer zones may be established around state and federal parks, refuges and other conservation areas in California by January 1 of 2016.

Governor Jerry Brown wrote the following letter when signing AB 1213:
“To the members of the California State assembly: I am signing assembly Bill 1213. This bill would prohibit commercial trapping of bobcats in areas adjacent to national and state parks, national monuments, or wildlife refuges in which trapping is currently prohibited. it would also require the fish and game Commission to consider whether to prohibit the trapping of bobcats in land adjacent to preserves, state conservancies and any other public or private conservation area identified by the public for protection. in order to ensure appropriate implementation of the act, I am asking the Legislature to work with my Department to secure funding to survey our bobcat population. Based on this work, the Department and the Commission should consider setting population thresholds and bobcat tag limitations in its upcoming rulemaking. Sincerely, Edmund G. Brown Jr.”

This newly established protection offered to Lynx rufus is an important step to help preserve a beloved species. The bobcat is rarely seen because of its stealthiness, camouflaging coloration and usual nocturnal behaviors. To see such a beautiful creature in the wild is an experience that one does not soon forget. Won’t it be nice that generations to come will have the opportunity to share in that same experience?

 

The bobcat (Lynx rufus) is the most common of wildcats in the desert southwest. it preys primarily upon rabbits, hares, rodents and birds. it is a largely solitary creature for most of the year. This elusive predator can easily range from 20-25 square miles and travel from 5-7 miles per night. It is sometimes mistaken as a mountain lion/cougar/puma (Puma concolor) though there are stark differences. The most notable being size, length of tail and stride. an adult bobcat weighs anywhere from 25-40 lbs. and stands about 16-22” at the shoulder while adult cougars weigh from 120-200 lbs. and stand 30-36”at the shoulder. The “bobbed” tail of a bobcat is usually between 4-8” long while the mountain lion sports a tail up to 36” in length. A bobcat stride or gait would be measured between 18-23” while the mountain lion’s stride covers 36”.

 

3472789242_9b7ca3c749_bAll photographs are courtesy of David Jesse McChesney.

Wildlife photographer David Jesse
McChesney, is the author of “The
Mojave Desert: Miles of Wonder”
and “Muir roots: At One with the
Wild.” He is the advanced photo
instructor for the Desert Institute at
Joshua Tree national Park.

For more about David please be sure to check out his webpage at “http://milesofwonder.com/”

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