When Tom O’Key discovered a bobcat trap in his property, near Joshua Tree National Park, he assumed it had something to do with wildlife research. “And it turned out it wasn’t,” O’Key says, “It turned out that a trapper had come on my land and dug this place out under this bush and then busted branches off that bush to camouflage it.” O’Key left a note for the trapper and took the trap to a local newspaper. The trapper told the paper he’d put out 30 traps in the area and had caught five bobcats in a single night. O’Key says that sent the preservation-minded community into an uproar.
Recently, many Joshua Tree residents have noticed that many local bobcats seem to have vanished. There’s a market for bobcat pelts in China, especially those from the lighter-colored cats in the desert. Each one can fetch up to $700 apiece. That price has gone up over the last few years as demand has increased in markets like China, where the fur is used for coats and slippers.
Through the end of February this past season, California Department of Fish and Wildlife numbers show trappers exported about 1,600 bobcat pelts from the state. That number is down from the more than 20,000 bobcats trapped in the late 1970s.
Within a month of the trap being found near Joshua Tree, Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) introduced a bill that would ban bobcat trapping around national and state parks, preserves and other natural areas in California, starting the first of the year.
The bill could mean an increase in license fees for trappers. The ban would still allow the trapping of nuisance animals to protect crops and other property. The bill would also require trappers to get written permission of landowners before setting traps on private land.
Mercer Lawing takes in his surroundings at Glen Helen Regional Park in San Bernardino County, near the mountains where he grew up hiking, trapping and hunting. Snow-like pollen drifts down from the trees. Lawing, who represents the California Trappers Association, says rather than a ban, it would be better to create a trapper education course, to teach trappers how to better interact in communities where trapping is a sensitive topic, such as in Joshua Tree. He suggests that both sides work together on a wildlife management plan that would let all sides on the trapping issue have a say.