If I were to ask you, “In your opinion, what state in the continental U.S. best exemplifies a desire to care and preserve the environment on a sustainable level?” How would you answer? Note, I am not asking what state has the best environment as that could be simply a reflection of its population. It’s hard to have pollution when you have few people. Nor am I asking what state you would like to live in. I am asking what state works the hardest on protecting the environment from the perspective of sustainability.
Whatever state you mentioned, certainly California should be near the top of everyone’s list. They have some of the most rigorous pesticide use programs in the country. In addition, California is always banning some activity, product, or industry because of its negative environmental impacts.
In light of California’s purported love for the environment and sustainability, I find it ironic that the California Fish and Game Commission voted (3 to 2) to ban the trapping of bobcats in the state. Now understand, to trap bobcats in California, trappers must pass trapper training and an exam and then pay $115.00/year in license fees. Out of state trappers are dinged at $577.50/year. Harvested bobcats must be tagged before they can be sold. Tags cost $3.00 each. In addition, trappers must use cage or box traps as California banned the more efficient traps such as footholds and snares.
Now why would a state like California that purportedly loves the environment decide to ban the harvest of a renewable resource like bobcats, particularly since they could be captured only using cage and box traps? Well, it certainly wasn’t because bobcats were undergoing population declines. Between 2003 and 2013, the year with the most recent data, bobcat harvests ranged from 799 to 1,639. With the most recent pelt price (2013-2014 season) averaging $390, the total value of the harvest for 2013-2014 season comes out to $639,210. Certainly not a huge amount of money by California standards, but note that only 93 trappers accounted for those captures. So I suspect the value of those cats was very important to them.
So why did the Commission ban the harvest of this valuable renewable resource? Was safety an issue? Are trappers really a threat to public safety? No. Though traps set illegally as well as illegal traps can and have injured pets. Injuries to humans don’t appear to be an issue. It should also be noted that most injuries occur to pets that owners have let off the leash. It’s interesting that when cars kill pets, we don’t ban cars. But when a trap injures a pet, we ban traps.
So could the reason be that the cost of overseeing bobcat trapping exceeds the income derived by the Commission? Perhaps. According to documents, the revenue of bobcat trapping to the agency is about $30,000. But the agency claims the cost to oversee and enforce the program costs $161,000. Readers should keep in mind that California’s bobcat season only lasts 69 days.
What readers may not know is that several areas in California already prohibited bobcat trapping. With trapper numbers declining over the decades, coupled with loss of trapping areas, it should not be a surprise that the Commission is spending more than it is bringing in. To make matters worse, the animal rights protest industry groups made their usual arguments about how irresponsible trapping is. So one could wonder if the Commission voted to kill bobcat trapping and therefore kill two birds with one stone, namely save costs and get the animal rights protest industry groups off their back, at least for a little while.
The irony of this decision is that a state that claims to care about sustainability and the environment decides to ban one practice that derives income from a renewable resource. Trapping is one of the few ways to harvest wealth from the land that doesn’t impact the underlying habitat. Foresters can’t say that. Mining can’t say that (not that I am opposed to either of those activities). My point is, it is easy for a government to punish a small minority of people who practice a skill that, though environmentally sound, is unpopular because ignorant people think that harvesting wildlife is somehow evil. One need only read (heck you only need to scan it) Mr. Baylis’ views from the Center for Biological Diversity to see the underlying attitude that harvest of wildlife is evil (see pdf page 77).
Bottom line, urbanites (those that live in areas with more concrete and asphalt than wide open spaces) should be concerned about the loss of bobcat trapping in California. If people who perform tasks that are clearly sustainable and environmentally sound can’t keep their jobs, how does any job have a future? Losing the bobcat harvest stops revenue creation and it means that just a little more pressure is placed on the job market and public welfare services. The fact is America has abundant wildlife resources that are underutilized not because they aren’t valuable but because too many people think using wildlife materials is morally wrong. That my friend, is not a scientific view, that is a religious view and it is not a Christian one.