The California Fish and Game Commission voted Wednesday to implement a statewide ban on bobcat trapping, overriding objections from lawmakers who said it defied the intent of more narrowly crafted prohibitions passed by the Legislature.
The 3-2 vote followed hours of public comment from animal rights advocates, who crowded the meeting in Fortuna on the North Coast, and trappers, who said the ban could destroy their livelihoods.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Jordan Traverso said the commission faced a difficult decision, but was ultimately swayed by the “sheer number of comments from tens of thousands of Californians who were in favor of the ban.”
“Some of the commissioners were compelled by the fact that the license fee for trappers does not cover the cost for our department running the program,” she added.
The Legislature tasked the Fish and Game Commission in 2013 with developing buffer zones around national parks, state parks and other wildlife areas in California where bobcat trapping would be prohibited.
The bill’s author, Assemblyman Richard Bloom, argued that a sharp rise in the international trade of bobcat pelts had put the animals at risk. Though he originally pushed for an outright ban on trapping, the Santa Monica Democrat ran up against opposition from the fur industry, as well as farmers, who favor trapping to protect their herds and crops.
Lawmakers compromised with the zonal approach, to reinforce protections in areas where bobcat trapping was already prohibited. In his signing message, Gov. Jerry Brown instructed his administration to conduct a population survey, which the commission could use to “consider setting population thresholds and bobcat trapping tag limitations in its upcoming rule making.”
But as the Fish and Game Commission began work on the regulations earlier this year, animal rights groups launched an expansive campaign to “Ban the Trap,” including billboard ads urging statewide restrictions.
Bloom joined them to speak in favor of the ban at Wednesday’s meeting. He tweeted his excitement following the decision: “I am elated that the CA Fish & Game Commish has just voted to ban bobcat trapping in #California as a result of my legislation.”
Bobcats are not an endangered species, and trapping, which has been legal in California for more than a century, is well below its peak decades ago. In the 2011-12 hunting season, an estimated 1,299 bobcats were killed by trapping, compared with a high of more than 20,000 annually in the past.
Opponents voiced concerns that the state would consider an outright ban on trapping despite a lack of compelling scientific evidence. Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, attended a meeting in June to argue that the commission was stepping well beyond its duty to implement the spirit of the law. In July, 23 Republicans lawmakers sent a letter to the commission urging it to come up with a new plan.
The commission responded to the criticisms by pointing to bill language allowing it to “impose additional requirements, restrictions, or prohibitions related to the taking of bobcats.”
Traverso said the Department of Fish and Wildlife anticipates the ban will be in place before the start of trapping season in November. It does not affect bobcat hunting.
The California Trappers Association is reviewing its options to challenge the regulation, either through the courts or an appeal to the Legislature or the governor.
“The California Fish & Game Commission rejected the Governor’s appeal for science and more information in order to make an educated decision on this issue,” spokesman Hector Barajas said in a statement. “They have become the political arm of the animal rights extremists.”