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Ending bobcat trapping in California

I mentioned a bit ago that some yahoos have been trapping bobcats in my neighborhood. That trapping has attracted the attention of reporter Louis Sahagun, who cracked the lid off the topic this weekend with an article in the Los Angeles Times. Sahagun interviewed some of my neighbors as well as a couple of trappers, one of whom — Mercer Lawing of Barstow, California – came up with this little bon mot:

“We love those animals more than the people who are complaining about us trapping them do.”

That link above is to Mercer Lawing’s bobcat trap business page, which contains potentially disturbing photos. He took down his Facebook page yesterday after my followup piece at KCET linked to it. I’m sure that was just a coincidence.

I’d been meaning to write something at KCET on the issue for a couple weeks, and since Sahagun had done all the hard work and beaten me to it,  I followed his article with an analysis of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s epically crappy science on bobcats, and a call to ban bobcat trapping in California altogether.

My KCET piece is here. Short version:

The last time anyone came close to counting bobcat numbers in California was in the 1970s. Back then an estimated 72,000 cats lived in the state, and a scientific panel established by President Ford figured hunters and trappers could take one fifth of that population every year without damaging the species in California. The actual science was so tenuous that a judge stopped exports of California bobcat pelts in 1982, saying trade in pelts could resume only when the Fish and Wildlife Service came up with more authoritative numbers. That never happened, and the ban on bobcat pelt exports was lifted a few months later when changes in the federal Endangered Species Act made the case moot.

Bobcat

Also, an excuse to sneak a kitteh picture past PZ.

In the 30 years since, California bobcat trappers have had no limit on the number of cats they can kill. Five a day, ten, a thousand? It’s all the same to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Aside from the trapping season, which runs from November through January, the only limit on bobcat trapping is that DFW closes the season early if the haul reaches 14,400 cats — a fifth of the controversial population estimate in the 1970s, which has not been updated. As the price of spotted cat fur goes up, the haul of California bobcats does too, with DFW sitting on its hands as long as that magical “14,400 dead cats” number isn’t reached.

Check out the whole KCET piece for more detail on that, plus a natural history story about how bobcats might be Joshua trees’ best ally in a warming world.

As someone who likes to eat venison, I’m no anti-hunt person per se. But essentially unregulated trapping of top-level carnivores is altogether different. And doing so with no scientific justification is even worse.

The Center for Biological Diversity, which has also been tracking the issue, has set up an action alert page where Californians can send a preformatted but editable letter to the appropriate California legislator urging them to ban bobcat trapping in the state. I hope you’ll consider signing it and sharing it around your circles, should you have friends in California.

And a few bobcat enthusiasts in my neighborhood have set up a site called Project Bobcat, where they’ll be posting updates and background information. Check it out.

 

 

Comments

  1. Nerdette says

    It blows my mind that of all the states to have such a spectacular failure of a governmental department for regulating human-wildlife interaction, it would be California that drops the ball. I’m too optimistic for my own good.

  2. mythbri says

    I love bobcats. They’re such a versatile species, although the cougar has them beat as far as total range goes. I think there are twelve recognized subspecies – I assume that the majority of the bobcats you’re talking about are Lynx rufus baileyi or californicus? Maybe mohavensis? The kittens are adorable, and they have wild facial hair.

    Bobcats were hipsters before it was cool

  3. meursalt says

    It’s understandable that auhoritative numbers would be hard to come by. These critters are notoriously difficult to catch a glimpse of. Conventional wisdom here is that if the bobcat doesn’t want to be seen, you won’t see it.

    Here in the Deep South ™, I’ve lived in close proximity with bobcats for the better part of 30 years (probably longer, since I’ve lived other places in their range, but never witnessed evidence of their presence elsewhere). When I was younger, I would go hiking, mostly avoiding human paths and trails, multiple times a week. To this day, I’ve had only a single possible visual encounter, which could easily have been a fox or coyote, since lighting was poor and I only saw the animal for about two seconds. I have been privileged to hear the critters though. Their vocalizations are hard to describe. They range from a demonic snarl or growl, to the sound of a woman being murdered. Sorry if that seems melodramatic, but they really must be heard to be believed.

    Sometimes I’ll hear them calling back and forth on the next ridgeline. Once, I got caught between what I can only surmise was a territorial conflict between a bobcat and a fox. I was in the middle of my yard on a dark, new-moon night, hearing “snarl-growl-I’mgonnakillyou-growl” on my right and some weird foxy growl on my left. Needless to say, I backed away slowly to my door before listening further. If I was a believer in the supernatural, it would have been a terrifying experience.

    All that said, I really can’t imagine someone wanting to go out of their way to kill these animals, especially with a hands-off approach like trapping. I just can’t fathom it. I guess it would be one thing if the people were trapping on their own farm to protect livestock (I still wouldn’t agree with it, but the motivation would at least be undestandable). I really can’t understand doing this for “sport,” though.

  4. Holms says

    Back then an estimated 72,000 cats lived in the state, and a scientific panel established by President Ford figured hunters and trappers could take one fifth of that population every year without damaging the species in California.

    It is just amazing that any ‘science’ panel could ever come up with such a ludicrous claim.

  5. Holms says

    Hunting is less cruel than captive factory farming.

    Even if I take that statement as true, when has that ever been considered justification for anything? Something that is ‘less wrong’ than another activity is not thereby considered right.

  6. John Morales says

    Holms, perhaps one should be grateful for small mercies?

    mythbri, nope. Nor do I wear fur.

  7. John Morales says

    [OT + meta]

    Holms, whatever made you think that was supposed to be a justification?

    Also, what’s with your “Even if I take that statement as true”?

    (Are you at all familiar with what factory farming entails?)

  8. unclefrogy says

    meursalt:
    I get the impression that it is not sport hunting that is going on in this instance but fur trapping.
    From your experience I would say that unless you bate them in sport hunting would be difficult to accomplish.

    If what was done in the Russian fox industry was tried with bob cats . That is taming them and raising them in for fur it could be done more humanly and with less trauma than trapping. Though I do not know what kind of traps are legal these days for bob cat. That just leaves the question should we be the fur thing at all unaddressed though.
    If we are going to do the fur thing I do not see why we do not do domestic dogs and cats also. I am sure we could get them to have almost any kind of fur we could desire given time and selective breeding.
    uncle frogy

  9. John Morales says

    Chris, that should be ‘felina’ or ‘bobina’, not “bovina” — they aren’t cattle.

    Clearly, I should clarify: my response was motivated by this sentence

    As the price of spotted cat fur goes up, the haul of California bobcats does too, with DFW sitting on its hands as long as that magical “14,400 dead cats” number isn’t reached.

    If the price goes up sufficiently, then factory farming becomes economically viable, and yours is a land of entrepreneurship. Were that to happen, things would be a bit better for the wild populations, but much worse for the farmed populations.

  10. says

    I’ve lived in bobcat country my whole life, and I’ve seen a grand total of one. And it was bigger than any I’d ever seen in a zoo; it was muscled like a linebacker and was at least up to my knee – I saw it across the parking lot after hiking in a disused county park east of San Jose. My spouse had just pointed out a coyote – we see those darting every once in awhile, but this one was new to the area from the footprints (we love discussing the fewmets and prints along the trail, and that day we were arguing about the cat-scratches on a tree being inconsistent with the height one expected for a mountain lion, but the prints were darn big. The bobcat was stalking the coyote, who didn’t seem to have a clue what lay behind him.

    I didn’t even know it was legal to trap them o-o Hunting any of the big cats just pisses me off, no one hunts them – they just set their dogs loose or trap them. It’s not hunting, per se.

  11. Holms says

    Holms, whatever made you think that was supposed to be a justification?

    The fact that you mentioned it. I made the assumption – foolish of me I know – that you had a point.

    Also, what’s with your “Even if I take that statement as true”?

    The truth or falsity of that comment is of no importance, as it is irrelevant either way. You are continuing to argue that hunting / trapping is preferable to farming, as if there was some kind of requirement to choose one or the other.

  12. Stacy says

    Chris, that should be ‘felina’ or ‘bobina’, not “bovina” — they aren’t cattle.

    No. Chris’s analogy has you addressing a hypothetical cow, in order to belittle the bobcat’s concerns.

  13. Angela Freeman says

    If bobcat are super-common, then that’s surprising. I’ve seen all the other cats of NA in the wild (cougar, lynx) and canids (wolf, coyote), but never bobcat.

  14. bradleybetts says

    These gorgeous animals are being trapped for their fur? Who wears fur any more?!

    I hate fur trapping. I bet the caracsses are just “disposed of”. I wouldn’t mind quite so much if they used all of it.

  15. Ichthyic says

    Chris –

    If you end up being interested in the old cat tracking data from the 70s (bobcat and mountain lion), my uncle was the one who did that work in CA.

    let me know if you think having access to that old data would be helpful, and I’ll pass you along to him.

    cheers

  16. Ichthyic says

    I’ve seen all the other cats of NA in the wild (cougar, lynx) and canids (wolf, coyote), but never bobcat.

    Bobcats are very good at avoidance. I know areas where there are lots, but you’re lucky to ever see one, even if you specifically go looking.

  17. mudskipper says

    I guess I must be lucky. I’ve seen bobcats here in California several times. The most amazing time was when a young adult, with all the glossiness and sleekness of youth, was sitting several yards off a well-traveled path at a local park. I stood on the path and tried to get people walking by excited about seeing a bobcat just sitting there, and most people just didn’t care. They were either in their own little iPod world or too busy chatting with friends to be terribly interested in the cat.

  18. Nepenthe says

    @6 John Morales

    As easy as it is to taunt the folks who go out for a nice hamburger after their anti-fur protest, I don’t think that is the point of this post.


    Re: the OP.

    Kitteh. :-(

    *goes to scratch the roommate kitteh*

  19. mythbri says

    @John Morales

    When you mentioned factory farming, my first thought was the farms that raise food animals. I didn’t think of fur-farming at all – hence my confusion.

    As far as killing animals merely for their fur, however, how about we do what we can to put a stop to ALL of it? Although instead of “Dear Bobina” it would be more appropriately “Dear rufus captivus” (apologies for the bad Latin)…

    I don’t understand how there’s even a market for this. One of my cousins has a keychain made from the tail of a bobcat. I hate it, and I don’t understand it.

  20. shades says

    It’s amazing to me that in an age of abundant fake fur this is still a thing. I didn’t even realize people went out and bought much real fur.

    Also, I’ve seen a bobcat (in Western Washington). A buddy and I were riding on a bike trail that cuts straight across very rural country, and turned a corner to see the cat chasing a rabbit straight down the trail towards us. Bunny turned into the brush; cat turned almost as quickly. Didn’t see whether or not it got dinner that day!

  21. says

    I hunted regularly in the Northern Coastal Range in Mendocino National Forest and the Sierras in Stanislaus National Forest. Most was on public lands but some was on private. I mainly hunted for deer, wild pig, rabbit, and quail. This was between about 1972 and 1992. I never hunted for bear, bobcat or cougar. I also went hiking and camping when game was not in season. Though I lived in the Bay Area (Berkeley/Oakland) where we saw deer, skunks, racoons, possums and even coyotes fairly regularly in and around the city. I never saw a cougar nor wild pig anywhere in the state. I saw a few bears over the years but only in the Sierras. Where I now live in NJ. Bears are becoming very common. We see them all the time in the suburbs. Deer, as always, are a driving hazard.

    I once saw a bobcat in CA. It was on Route 108 (Sonora Pass Hwy) early in the morning. It was just walking down the middle of a dirt road. I pulled over on the main road and stopped to look at it (about 25 yards away.) The bobcat was magnificent. It looked as big as a medium sized dog. It stopped and took one look over its shoulder as I stopped then turned back to its walk straight down the dirt road. It seemed completely unimpressed with my presence. I was about 21 years old and to me, at that time, it just seemed absolutely bad-ass. There are few reasons I would want to hunt that animal with anything but a camera.

    Contrast the bobcat with the wild pigs (they are a mix of feral pig and European wild board) which are not native. They are considered a nuisance and have very high limits and a long season. IIRC it was on the order of as many as you could shoot for 10 months pf the year. Probably different now. I even went hunting for them on purpose… many times but I never saw one either way.

  22. unclefrogy says

    mudskipper I would bet that the cat you saw was already aware that no one was paying any attention to it at all.

  23. swim says

    So by yahoos you must mean someone who enjoys doing something that you don’t like to do. You say you enjoy venison so I guess hunting is OK but you don’t like bobcat so let’s ban it. Sounds very narrow minded to me.
    No coincidence that Mercer Lawing ends up taking his Facebook page down. You know damn well you were inviting harassment. He received it and is it any wonder he is laying low? Don’t like the mans message make sure he can’t tell his side of the story. Free thought indeed!
    Your version of the bobcat management science verges on out and out falsehood.
    The truth is the export of bobcats was shut down in 1982 because of a treaty the US entered into called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. US bobcats have never been endangered and are plentiful throughout their range. They are tagged as to place of origin because there are look alike species outside the US. CA and all other states had to show they had a viable management plan and the cats were not threatened. They did and export of the cats resumed.
    Bobcats are managed by the State of California and the catch statistics are crucial to keeping track of their numbers. The catch numbers have never reached a high enough number to warrant a limit. Your claim of unregulated trapping is totally off base. I think you know that.
    Trapping as practiced in CA couldn’t be anymore humane. All animals are cage trapped and checked every 24 hours. Cats that are young or females are usually released. Trappers can be very selective what they keep. If you know anything about bobcats you will know one of the biggest limiting factors to a bobcat population is the tom cats killing the young. By removing some of these male cats the bobcat population will actually increase. These guys are farming their trap line. They do not wish to hurt the population. That is bad for the trappers in the long run.
    I understand people that don’t believe in eating meat but I don’t understand others problem with this. Humanely harvested, free range robust population. Sounds pretty good to me. By the way bobcat tastes similar to lean pork. You should make friends with one of these guys and try it.

  24. says

    Funny how all the people I’ve seen defending the DFW’s bobcat management don’t seem to know the difference between a kill count and a census.

    I do not endorse harassing Mercer Lawing. Just putting him out of business.

  25. Ichthyic says

    The catch numbers have never reached a high enough number to warrant a limit. Your claim of unregulated trapping is totally off base. I think you know that.

    You just called Chris a liar, flat out.

    I think you know that, but I think also you better well get your ass back here and back that up with something more concrete than your wiseass say-so.

  26. Ichthyic says

    If you know anything about bobcats you will know one of the biggest limiting factors to a bobcat population is the tom cats killing the young. By removing some of these male cats the bobcat population will actually increase.

    citation sorely needed.

  27. says

    Hypothetically speaking, posting without disclosing one’s real-life role as a trade representative for the trapping industry would likely be considered unethical for most trades.

  28. Ichthyic says

    …what’s more, if you start seriously skewing the sex ratios in the populations of bobcats, I’m betting that you personally have no fucking clue what impacts that actually will have, not just on the bobcat populations themselves, but on other species sharing their habitat.

    I’m of the opinion you haven’t the slightest clue what you’re talking about, but you’re more than welcome to prove me wrong.

  29. Ichthyic says

    Hypothetically speaking, posting without disclosing one’s real-life role as a trade representative for the trapping industry would likely be considered unethical for most trades.

    hypothetically speaking, of course.

    ;)

    OTOH, my experiences have been that almost all businesses that rely on any kind of natural resource tend to leave ethics at the door after a short while. Fur, meat, oil, gas, water… seems to select for individuals with “flexible” ethics…

  30. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    So by yahoos you must mean someone who enjoys doing something that you don’t like to do. You say you enjoy venison so I guess hunting is OK but you don’t like bobcat so let’s ban it.

    Right because these two situations are exactly analogous.

  31. Ichthyic says

    catch statistics are crucial to keeping track of their numbers

    ah yes, the classic idiotic “wait till their catch numbers crash to do anything” management technique.

    worked so well for the sardine industry.

    and the angel shark fishery.

    abalone…

    kelp bass…

    tuna…

    yeah, I can make a very long and depressing list for you if you like, and then spend the next 8 hours posting all the research from the scientists that were ignored by CA Fish ‘n Stuff.

  32. Holms says

    No coincidence that Mercer Lawing ends up taking his Facebook page down. You know damn well you were inviting harassment. He received it and is it any wonder he is laying low? Don’t like the mans message make sure he can’t tell his side of the story. Free thought indeed!

    How exactly does this post ‘make sure he can’t tell his side of the story’? He retains the ability to rebut his critics, but has apparently chosent to hide his position instead.

    …and are plentiful throughout their range.

    In this one sentence, you demonstrate that you didn’t bother reading the post. That claim was successfully disputed 30 years ago and yet it persists as the entire basis for CA’s stance on bobcat hunting and conservation.

  33. meursalt says

    @unclefogy #15:

    I get the impression that it is not sport hunting that is going on in this instance but fur trapping.
    From your experience I would say that unless you bate them in sport hunting would be difficult to accomplish.

    I guess that’s what I get for skimming the linked article. I hadn’t realized there is demand for bobcat fur in the modern world, although now that I think about it, I remember reading that fur trapping was a big reason for the decline in population of European lynx, a very similar animal.

    @Icthyic, #39

    That’s going to be an extremely long list. Let’s not forget orange roughy!

  34. swim says

    First off I am not a representative of the fur industry. Trapper yes but not a CA trapper. I hold no position that allows me to speak for anyone but myself.
    So much criticism I hardly know where to begin. Must have struck a nerve.
    I’ll hit furbearer management first. I’m not going to throw out any citations, neither did the original post. I choose to let the trained professionals at the Department of Fish and Wildlife handle this. They were hired because of their training. Let them use it.
    Just like to comment on the call for a census. No large wild animal populations are going to get a census. There are estimates made but the money it would take to do a full blown count of bobcats is not there even if it was possible. The catch numbers are used as a trend line along with trap/ days in the field to estimate population and set seasons. I know you think there are no limits but there are and they are enforced by length of season. The season could well run five months but it does not. That is how catch is limited. Don’t agree with it, go to the department and make your case bobcats are being over harvested.
    Oh I did read the OP several times and yes bobcats are plentiful through out their range and there is nothing in that OP that say otherwise but yes I should have specified within the US as the Mexican bobcat is a CITES listed species not eligible for trade so one would assume it might not be plentiful.
    I didn’t call Chris a liar. I said he verged on it. I guess we all do that to an extent when we are trying to make a case for something we want. Chris clearly wrote that OP with little concern for the true history. You can pick and choose your facts but if you leave most of them out it is not going to paint a true picture.
    Bottom line, this is not about how the bobcat population is doing. They are doing quite well. This is all about ending trapping because some people don’t like to see any animal killed. If you feel that way fair enough but at least be honest about it. Vegans think it is inhumane to kill any animal but most of us accept a little harvest of animals one way of another. Maybe a hamburger for lunch, the shoes on our feet or the tires on our car. I would be OK with a bobcat fur jacket. That bobcat lived a better life and died easier then the chicken that provided wings for the super bowl.
    Mercer was silenced because he couldn’t stand the attacks. Hard to have a civil discourse with people that are sending you death threats.

  35. Ichthyic says

    Must have struck a nerve.

    people with no substantive arguments ALWAYS say this of their critics.

    it must be an unwritten law or something.

    I didn’t call Chris a liar.

    yes you did.

    and yes, you’re a liar.

    I’m not going to throw out any citations

    because you don’t have any.

    No large wild animal populations are going to get a census. There are estimates made but the money it would take to do a full blown count of bobcats is not there even if it was possible.

    that’s not how population sampling works, but you’d know that if you were even a tenth as knowledgeable as you claim.

    They were hired because of their training

    ROFLMAO

    you don’t know anything about Cal Fish and Game, obviously.

    I know you think there are no limits

    no, it’s that there are no limits set by the state, and you agreed.

    Industry self regulation has a grand history of failure.

    You can pick and choose your facts but if you leave most of them out it is not going to paint a true picture.

    still waiting for facts from you. Got any? any at all?

    This is all about ending trapping because some people don’t like to see any animal killed.

    wrong. nowhere does Chris say that trapping must completely stop, nor has he ever said that in any previous missive on the subject of animal trapping.

    more lies from you.

    Mercer was silenced

    MORE LIES FROM YOU.

    are you even capable of telling the truth?

    I’m curious to see it.

  36. says

    Hard to have a civil discourse with people that are sending you death threats.

    Completely agreed. And I have been urging people to tone down the personal nature of their attacks in my community. I will continue to do so. I’ve deleted comments and told the offending commenters to cut it the fuck out. (Though I haven’t had to here, because the commenters here have had their fill of threats of violence.)

    I have actually been startled at the degree of anger people at large in California and elsewhere are feeling toward bobcat trappers. I get the sense that the only reason the activity has continued is that people haven’t known it’s going on. I guess that time is over now.

    Incidentally, swim, if you are going to maintain that you don’t speak for anyone but yourself, I might just let a certain President of a large state Trappers’ Association know that someone is commenting on Pharyngula using his email address, presumably without his consent.

  37. swim says

    So Chris,
    My question is why are you opposed to bobcat trapping? You’ve already admitted that you are not opposed to eating meat, in fact you say you eat venison. I would assume wild meat.
    The bobcats certainly suffer no more then a deer when harvested. Is it just because they are more photogenic? To me if they are responsibly managed and harvested I just don’t get the outrage.
    I get you don’t care for trappers making a profit on what they catch but nobody gets upset over a rancher making a living.
    Already admitted I’m a trapper. I do not speak for anyone but myself. If I wished to speak for the trappers of my state I would have to get permission. I did not and I do not speak for them. As for being some kind of industry representative, you’re talking to a small fish. I don’t have any influence particularly in CA.

    As for icthyic you have all the answers and your mind is made up. If you want to say you won that’s fine too. I will not waste my time talking to you.

  38. Ichthyic says

    My question is why are you opposed to bobcat trapping?

    Hey, fuckwit who can’t swim…

    read for comprehension:

    As someone who likes to eat venison, I’m no anti-hunt person per se. But essentially unregulated trapping of top-level carnivores is altogether different. And doing so with no scientific justification is even worse.

    As for icthyic you have all the answers and your mind is made up.

    right, so you don’t want to give us any facts or even anything but lies and inanity.

    pretty clear.

    good thing you represent your organization so efficiently.

  39. Ichthyic says

    You know, fuckwit comrade swim?

    I used to work with a guy who was a commercial fisherman for 10 years, saw what was happening to sharks while he was part of the industry, took a class in ecology at the local uni to find out more, and decided he better do something to help conserve these top level predators, as it would benefit not just the sharks, but the entire fishing industry.

    some people actually WANT to learn and have answers.

    they aren’t like you, that utilize your preconceptions and inane rationalizations, just like a logger, to justify to yourself that there need be no regulation of your industry beyond what you, a complete moron, “feel” is necessary based on your pitiful level of knowledge about the impacts of your activities.

    you fail, not just at being a person who cares about the future of YOUR OWN INDUSTRY, but as a person who is interested in what impacts his activities have on everything else. In short, you also fail your community, your state, and everyone and everything in it.

    I pity you.

  40. w00dview says

    Hey Chris, I read your KCET article and that ChrisW chap is a pretty obtuse fella. A pattern I notice when hunter/trapper defenders comment on articles like these is that they do not seem to read the article. ChrisW kept calling you a PETA extremist and shouting NO BAN NEEDED when your article clearly expressed the problems you had with this practise in regards to the numbers used by the DFW being outdated and yet ChrisW kept referring to a document by them as evidence to keep the practise going! He just kept repeating himself over and over with nothing new to bring to the table, no wonder PZ bans people if they are obsessive on an issue. They are bores.