As of Friday, recreational and commercial bobcat trapping is no longer allowed in California, ending a century-old industry.
Conservationist Tom O’Key could not be happier. The law grew out of the grass-roots fury of thousands of residents across the state over his discovery in 2013 of a bobcat trap set on his property near the edge of Joshua Tree National Park.
On Saturday afternoon, O’Key hiked out to the site with a few cold beers to reflect on the accomplishment.
“For the first time in history, there’ll be no bobcat trapping in California,” he said in an interview. “That’s because people worked together in the spirit of doing something right.”
O’Key said he stumbled across the trap chained to a jojoba bush and camouflaged with broken branches just north of the 720,000-acre park, where the native cats are a dominant force of the ecosystem.
He immediately alerted neighbors and contacted the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and newspapers, which triggered an angry tide of complaints that focused attention on the practice of trapping, killing and skinning bobcats to supply fur markets in China, Russia and Greece.
Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) introduced AB 1213 -- the Bobcat Protection Act of 2013 -- in response to petition drives, social media campaigns and telephone calls to lawmakers from wildlife advocates who decried it as a cruel trade.
In August, the California Fish and Game Commission voted 3 to 2 to eliminate bobcat trapping statewide for two reasons.
The estimated 100 commercial bobcat trappers in the state could not afford to pay the full cost of regulating the industry as required under the Bobcat Protection Act. In addition, the commissioners could not determine whether trapping jeopardized the species because they had no current scientific data on the health of the state’s bobcat populations.
The regulations became effective on Friday – three days before bobcat hunting season had been scheduled to begin.
Now, it is unlawful to trap any bobcat, or attempt to do so, or to sell or export any bobcat or part of any bobcat taken in the state. Any holder of a trapping license who traps a bobcat must immediately release it to the wild unharmed.
In addition, state wildlife authorities will no longer mark bobcat pelts for personal use or issue shipping tags for commercial sale of bobcat pelts taken in California.
Brendan Cummings, a resident of Joshua Tree and public lands director for the Center for Biological Diversity, described the new law as “a great moment in history. Fifteen years into the 21st century, state wildlife management has finally entered the 20th century.”
But O’Key was more impressed with the power of public pressure on behalf of a species.
“Anyone who lifted a finger in defense of this animal over the past two years ought to be mighty proud about that,” he said. “I know I am.”
Follow me @LouisSahagun for more fascinating stories.