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Bobcat battle headed to state senate committee
Local trapper says he's been harrassed
BARSTOW • As wildlife advocates promote legislation that would limit bobcat trapping in the Mojave Desert, a Barstow-area man says he and other trappers have been unfairly painted as villains.
An activist group based in Joshua Tree is promoting Assembly Bill 1213, dubbed the Bobcat Protection Act of 2013, which would make bobcat trapping illegal in a buffer zone around Joshua Tree National Park beginning next year. The bill would also pave the way for similar buffer zones to be placed around other national or state parks, national monuments, wildlife refuges and other public or private conservation areas.
AB 1213 has passed the Assembly and will go before the state Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday.
The issue arose in January when a property owner near Joshua Tree National Park found a bobcat trap on his land and was told by local authorities that he had no legal recourse against the trapper. State trespassing laws offer little or no protection to property owners whose land is not fenced off or does not have clearly visible signs along its boundaries.
AB 1213 would make it illegal to trap bobcats on any private land without the written consent of the land owner.
“We don’t want to put up fences and signs,” said Karen Tracy, a Joshua Tree resident and a member of the bobcat advocacy group Project Bobcat. “It’s wide-open, gorgeous territory.”
Mercer Lawing, a Barstow-area resident who represents the California Trappers Association, said the incident in Joshua Tree was isolated, and he believes the 200 or so trappers in the state wouldn’t set up traps on private property.
Lawing said supporters of the bill have tried to turn him into a villain, attempting to portray bobcat trappers as greedy people who get rich off California’s wildlife.
Lawing claims he and his family have been harassed by conservationists.
“They want to ban trapping just because they don’t think it’s right,” Lawing said. “But they don’t have the desire or willingness to learn about trapping.”
Tracy said she wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few “bad apples” on both sides of the argument, but she believed the alleged harassment arose when Lawing posted photos of his fur pelts on social media sites and received negative responses.
Tracy said Project Bobcat is trying to protect the natural beauty of the Mojave Desert — not just for residents, but for tourists as well.
“I’ve lived here for 27 years and the thrill of seeing a bobcat in the wild just never ends,” Tracy said. “I’m not the only one that feels that way. People come here from all over the world and they are ecstatic when they see a bobcat.”
Unlimited bobcat trapping is legal in California from late November until the end of January each year, and depending on whom you ask, it can be quite profitable.
Quoting an anonymous trapper, an article in the Hi-Desert Star in January stated that pelts can be sold for up to $1,700 to foreign buyers. A report in The Press-Enterprise last month stated that pelt prices can top $400.
Lawing claims bobcat pelts might sell for $400 in a good year but typically sell for less.
“I’ve sold furs for about 25 years. I’ve maybe averaged around $150 per pelt,” Lawing said. “Bobcats sold very well last year. How will they sell this year — who knows? They sold good in 2008, then in 2009, 2010 and 2011 they sold lousy before picking up last year. You just never know where it’s going to be.”
Lawing said the state allows bobcat hunting because the cats are plentiful. He believes it’s absurd some people are trying to make a case that bobcats need more protection.
“If somebody doesn’t want to kill an animal, that’s fine, but be willing to understand all the points of view,” Lawing said. “Trapping is where we find our sense of liberty, on the trap line is where we pursue our freedom and our liberty.”