FORTUNA — A movement against bobcat trapping that began in Joshua Tree claimed success Wednesday when a state commission banned all trapping of the cats in California.
The 3-2 vote from the California Fish & Game Commission went against recommendations for a partial ban in certain areas, suggested by the commission’s own staff and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Instead, the panel approved a statewide prohibition on trapping and killing bobcats.
The new rule makes exceptions for trapping animals that are nuisances or causing property damage.
The Office of Administrative Law must approve the ban before it is enacted.
The commission received more than 25,000 emails, letters and petitions supporting the complete ban, according to the meeting agenda.
“Banning the cruel and unnecessary trapping of bobcats for the international fur trade is widely supported by the public and this vote shows California’s continued leadership in protecting wildlife,” Camilla Fox, founder and executive director of Project Coyote, said in a news release after the vote.
A group of supporters, including several from Joshua Tree, gathered outside the meeting of the Fish & Game Commission, holding signs and photographs of bobcats. One showed side-by-side pictures of a California bobcat and Cecil, a lion killed by an American hunter in Zimbabwe July 1, prompting international outrage.
The ban was opposed by 23 senators, including Republican Senator Jean Fuller, whose district includes the Morongo Basin. She and her colleagues asked the commission to hold off on adopting new regulations until the Department of Fish and Game could find funding and undertake a population survey of bobcats in California.
The California Trappers Association also opposed both the partial and the complete ban. In letters to the commission, Director Mercer Lawling wrote that the Department of Fish & Game did not offer enough workshops in areas where trappers live, resulting in a disproportionately high level of input from trapping opponents. He also said the ban could lead to an overpopulation of bobcats and dwindling numbers of prey animals like quail and rabbits.
Wednesday’s action is the most drastic way the commission could follow the dictates of the Bobcat Protection Act, a bill passed by the Legislature in 2013 at least in part because of lobbying from Hi-Desert residents.
The act banned trapping in zones around national parks, preserves and refuges. It called for the Fish & Game Commission to amend its regulations to prohibit bobcat trapping around national and state parks, monuments and wildlife refuges. But the law also stated it did not limit the commission’s ability to impose stricter prohibitions, including a complete ban.
The Department of Fish and Game and the commission’s staff advised instead allowing trapping in several areas, including San Bernardino County.
Project Bobcat began in Joshua Tree
Project Bobcat, the movement that led to the Bobcat Protection Act and the new ban, began in January 2013 when Tom O’Key, of Joshua Tree, found a bobcat cage on his private property bordering Joshua Tree National Park. O’Key took the trap, leaving a note for the trapper so he could reclaim it, and contacted the Hi-Desert Star.
The trap’s owner, who told the Hi-Desert Star he mistook O’Key’s land for public property, said he was a licensed trapper who sold the pelts.
In the months after finding the trap, O’Key galvanized people in the Morongo Basin and beyond to take up his cause against the legal trapping and killing of bobcats.
They got the attention of Assemblyman Richard Bloom, of Santa Monica, who introduced the Bobcat Protection Act that was eventually signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.