A bobcat protection bill approved this week by the California Legislature would establish no-trapping zones around Joshua Tree National Park and other public parks and wildlife refuges throughout the state.
The measure would also prohibit trapping of bobcats on private property without the written consent of the land owner, and direct the state Fish and Game Commission to set trapping fees at the levels necessary to offset the state's costs of implementing and enforcing the program.
The proposed legislation, authored by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), now awaits the signature of Gov.
If signed, a no-trapping zone around Joshua Tree National Park would take effect Jan. 1, 2014. Similar buffer zones would be created around parks and wildlife refuges elsewhere over the course of the following year. The ultimate costs of the proposal remain unclear.
Bloom introduced AB 1213 in response to the public outcry that followed the discovery earlier this year of bobcat traps set on private property along the boundaries of Joshua Tree National Park.
"Across California, there is broad agreement on the need to preserve vital, irreplaceable elements of our ecosystem and protect our state's natural resources and wildlife from exploitation," Bloom said in a prepared statement. "AB 1213 is an important step toward that goal."
The price a trapper can get for a bobcat pelt has risen from about $78 in 2009 to more than $700 today. As a result, trapping of bobcats statewide has skyrocketed.
An estimated 1,813 bobcats were taken statewide during the 2011-2012 license year, an increase of about 51% over the previous season, according to state wildlife authorities. Trappers took 1,499 of those bobcats with hunters taking the rest.
The proposed legislation is supported by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the Sierra Club and other conservation and environmental organizations.
"I believe this law will have a real impact on the level of bobcat trapping statewide," said Brendan Cummings, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity and a resident of the community of Joshua Tree. "In Southern California, where we have a lot of protected habitat, it should play a substantial role in maintaining a healthy bobcat population."
A lack of reliable population estimates for bobcats in California makes it all but impossible for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to determine a sustainable harvest limit for the felines scientists know as Lynx rufus.
The most recent survey of bobcats in Joshua Tree National Park was conducted more than three decades ago.
If the bill is approved, the no-trapping zones would be demarcated using easily identifiable features such as highways. For example, the proposed prohibited area around Joshua Tree National Park would be roughly two miles wide and framed by Highway 62 to the west and north, Interstate 10 on the south and Highway 177 on the east.
"The goal would be to surround the park's boundaries with a buffer zone big enough to prevent trappers from luring bobcats out with pheromones or other means," Cummings said.
In the meantime, prices are soaring for prime bobcat belly fur in China, Russia, Greece and other foreign markets.
"Bobcat trapping is somewhat misunderstood," said licensed trapper James Buge, 68, of Tehachapi. "In China and Russia, where winters are long and cold, some people are buying that fur for fashion – but others wear it for function. Bobcat pelts from California are the best in the world in terms of the color and function that furriers are looking for."