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Opinion Editorial

A buffer for bobcats

Catching a glimpse of a bobcat, the exotic wild feline with a bobbed tail that prowls California, is one of the draws for wildlife enthusiasts visiting Joshua Tree National Park. In that park and certain others around the state, bobcats are protected from hunters and trappers throughout the year, a smart rule designed to protect the state's ecosystem and preserve its wildlife from exploitation.

But this year there was an outcry after it became known that bobcat traps were being set just outside the boundaries of Joshua Tree and that trappers were using scented lures and battery-powered pet toys that mimic dying birds to lure the animals out. Trapping bobcats is an increasingly lucrative business as demand for the fur rises in foreign markets, including China, Russia and Greece, driving up the price of a premium belly fur pelt to $700, sometimes more.

AB 1213, the "Bobcat Protection Act" written by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), would address the issue by setting a buffer zone around Joshua Tree — and some other parks and wildlife refuges — in which no trapping would be allowed. The bill was passed by the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown should sign it into law.

Even bobcats that spend most of their lives within the boundaries of Joshua Tree wander the periphery as well, foraging and denning and fulfilling their role in the local ecosystem by keeping the rabbit and rodent populations in check.

Clearly the state intended the protected areas to serve as refuges for bobcats — not to provide a convenient, concentrated supply of the animals for commercial trappers. Similarly, the wildlife corridors owned by the state just outside Joshua Tree are meant to provide safe passage for the animals, not to be vulnerable intersections between park entrances and traps; these corridors would be included in the buffer zones.

The bill also makes it illegal to set traps on private property without the written consent of the owners. One of the triggers for this bill was a spate of traps set without permission on private land near Joshua Tree.

Opponents of the bill argue that the bobcat population is more than sufficiently robust. However, the state hasn't counted bobcats since the late 1970s, when it estimated there were 72,000 and allowed 14,400 to be killed. Now the state monitors "harvest" — the number of bobcats killed by hunters and trappers — which has been as high as 11,900 in the 1980s. It's trending up now. The 2011-12 take was 1,800 — a 51% increase over the previous season.

No matter the number of bobcats, the state has committed to setting aside areas where they are as protected as possible without confining them. All this bill does is prohibit trapping at the threshold of these preserves. It deserves to be approved.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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