By Courtney Vaughn | Hi-Desert Star

SACRAMENTO — An Assembly bill aimed at ending bobcat trapping across the state has now been tailored to Joshua Tree.

AB 1213 was discussed in a public hearing Tuesday and passed the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife.

In attendance at the state capitol were at least 20 Morongo Basin residents.

The bill was amended last week to narrow the scope of the trapping ban to the outskirts of Joshua Tree National Park.

As stated, the bill would establish “a no-trapping buffer zone” around Joshua Tree National Park. It establishes a two-mile radius around the park as off-limits to trappers.

AB 1213 would also demand a management plan and updated bobcat population estimate from the Department of Fish and Wildlife. If a plan is not in place by July 2015, California would enforce a statewide ban on bobcat trapping.

The bill cleared the committee and is now headed to the Appropriations Committee before it hits the Assembly floor.

Locals take case to Sacramento

Bobcat trapping gained national attention earlier this year after Joshua Tree residents began finding traps on their property.

State law puts strict limitations on how many tags hunters can buy, but allows for up to 14,400 bobcats to be trapped and killed each year. Trapping has picked up steadily since 2009, due to overseas fur markets.

In the 2010-11 trapping year, annual take rose 57 percent from the previous year. In 2011-12, it rose another 51 percent, according to data from the Department of Fish and Wildlife. According to analysis of AB 1213, trappers stopped providing the department with market rates for pelts about four years ago. Current estimates put the bobcat pelt prices at around $700, depending on the size and condition of the fur.

When some locals learned about trapping in neighborhoods near Joshua Tree National Park, they became outraged. Petitions circulated, conservation organizations got involved and AB 1213 was written.

Karen Tracy of Joshua Tree was one of the residents who made the trip to Sacramento to register her support of AB 1213.

“We were not lobbyists,” Tracy said. “The committee members are used to hearing from lobbyists, but we were citizens in favor of the bill. The reason that it’s so important is because of the position of the bobcat in the diversity of species here. We have no accurate knowledge of the bobcat population.”

Tracy said it doesn’t make any sense to threaten the local bobcat population to the point that it cannot recover. She fears irrevocable damage.

“As responsible stewards of this landscape, we have to err on the side of caution on behalf of biodiversity,” she said. “If we can ensure the numbers are not imperiled, we need to do that.”

So far, the bill has earned support from nearly 50 organizations, including the U.S. Humane Society, the Animal Welfare Institute, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Center for Biological Diversity and International Fund for Animal Welfare among several others.

Seven groups have officially opposed the bill, including the state and national Trappers Associations.

Trappers argue the bill would infringe on their rights. Fish and Wildlife biologists also argue the bill is unnecessary because statewide bobcat populations are not threatened. The annual number of bobcats harvested in California is well below the established quota, opponents say.

Brendan Cummings, a Joshua Tree resident and senior counsel for Center for Biological Diversity, spoke to the Assembly Committee Tuesday.

Cummings said the bill, with its new language, asks for responsible management and consideration for those who value bobcats as part of the natural landscape, not the fur market.

“This would require that if trapping of bobcats is going to continue in California, it has to be done based on a scientifically credible management plan, which takes into consideration non-consumptive uses like tourism,” Cummings said.

The bill proposes to pay for the proposed management plan and population studies through licensing fees. It stipulates licensing fees should align with the costs to Fish and Wildlife. As Cummings pointed out, the wildlife department receives around $60,000 a year in licensing fees, which is insufficient to fund a department employee’s salary.

“If trapping is going to continue, it shouldn’t be subsidized by taxpayers,” Cummings said.

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