Capitol Alert

Fur trapping was once the heart of California’s economy. A new bill could ban it.

In this photo taken Friday, March 16, 2018, Benjamin Lin holds up a fur coat at the B.B. Hawk showroom in San Francisco. Fur trapping would be banned in California if the Legislature passes Assembly Bill 273 by Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher. It would block the Department of Fish and Wildlife from issuing licenses.
In this photo taken Friday, March 16, 2018, Benjamin Lin holds up a fur coat at the B.B. Hawk showroom in San Francisco. Fur trapping would be banned in California if the Legislature passes Assembly Bill 273 by Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher. It would block the Department of Fish and Wildlife from issuing licenses. AP

A new bill in the California Legislature would put an end to a California industry that predates the Gold Rush.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, submitted a bill that would prohibit the state from issuing fur trapping licenses.

Last year, the state issued 133 of them, which trappers used to capture 995 muskrats, 105 gray foxes, dozens of skunks and other mammals, according to the Natural Resources Agency.

Gonzalez argues the practice is “cruel” and the licensing program is a waste of money.

“Not only does the cruel fur trapping trade decimate our increasingly vulnerable wildlife populations, running this program doesn’t even make fiscal policy sense,” Gonzalez said in a statement announcing the bill’s filing. “Taxpayers are subsidizing this unnecessary commercial activity because the cost of managing this program isn’t even covered by the revenue from trapping license fees.”

The bill is supported by the nonprofit environmental advocacy group the Center for Biological Diversity, whose conservation director, Brendan Cummings, said in a statement that “this bill is an important step in ending an antiquated and cruel practice and bringing Californians wildlife management in line with the values of the overwhelming majority of Californian’s who value our wildlife alive, not as commodities to be killed and skinned for foreign fur markets.”

Trapping licenses generated around $15,000 for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“Given this revenue generated by the sale of trapping licenses would only cover a fraction of the costs of even a single warden, proper management and enforcement of a fur trapping program would cost far more than the revenue generated by licenses, resulting in a de facto subsidy of commercial fur trapping,” Gonzalez’s office said in a statement.

California has a long history of fur trapping.

The California Fur Rush predated the 1849 Gold Rush; trappers flocked to California to collect sea otter, seal, beaver, fox and other animal pelts. Russia once maintained a fur trading outpost in what is now Sonoma County. The site is preserved as Fort Ross State Historic Park.

San Francisco, once a hub in the global fur trade, banned the sale of fur last year. California lawmakers also are considering a bill that would ban the sale of fur statewide.

The Natural Resources Agency publishes an annual report on trapping licenses. Commercial trappers primarily worked in Butte, Colusa, Glenn and Siskiyou counties, where they captured muskrats that they sold to buyers.

This story was updated on Jan. 27, 2019 to reflect that Fort Ross is in Sonoma County.

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for McClatchy. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.


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