We Are All Cecil

By on August 6, 2015 with 4 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Yesterday’s action by the California Fish and Game Commission to ban trapping of bobcats in the state is yet another big advance for animal protection. The commission, led by its two newest appointees, grounded its action not on concerns about scarcity, but around the very notion that killing a predator for his or her pelt is just not right. Their bold and welcome action will spare perhaps 1,000 – 1,500 bobcats annually of the terror and pain of being caught in a box trap and then bludgeoned or otherwise killed and skinned and sold to foreign markets for the fur trade. A single bobcat pelt may go for $700, and be sold in Russia or China.

This outcome had special meaning for me, because not long after I joined The HSUS, I led a 1998 ballot initiative with a coalition of groups to ban the use of steel-jawed leghold traps and to restrict the use of other body-gripping traps for recreation or commerce in fur. We won in a commanding fashion, winning by a 16-percentage-point margin in the state and then won a series of court cases after the trappers challenged us. (And two years ago, I worked with my colleague Jennifer Fearing and others at The HSUS and in our movement to ban the use of dogs in hunting bobcats and black bears, as a further way of clamping down on the killing of these beautiful, elusive and inoffensive creatures.)

bobcatsThose of us who worked on the 1998 ballot initiative never anticipated that trappers would use box traps to kill bobcats and some other species for their fur. We thought we finished off the commercial trappers’ ugly enterprise in California with the ballot measure. So for me, yesterday’s outcome was a long-awaited and a logical follow up, finally shutting down the maneuvering of trappers who showed resourcefulness in sidestepping the original law designed to stop the killing of bobcats for their pelts.

This most recent political movement, culminating in yesterday’s Commission action, to provide these protections for bobcats got its greatest lift from California citizens living around Joshua Tree National Park – people like Tom O’Key, who found a bobcat trap on his property and was appalled by the idea of these animals living safely in the park and then being lured over some invisible line and being killed and skinned for their coats. According to O’Key and others, trappers were lining up right outside of Joshua Tree National Park and conducted their life-draining activities – reminiscent of what Walter Palmer did to Cecil the African lion right outside of Hwange National Park. (Palmer and his guides actually lured the lion out with a dead elephant carcass before shooting him with bow and arrow wounding him, and then delivering a fatal shot hours later.)

O’Key and other citizens worked with Assemblymember Richard Bloom, The HSUS, the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups to pass legislation in 2013 to restrict bobcat trapping in the state. Yesterday the California Fish and Game Commission adopted regulations to implement that law, and had two proposals in front of them – one, a limited ban that applied right around national parks and other protected areas, and two, a statewide ban. The HSUS, animal and environmental groups as well as the residents around Joshua Tree all pushed for the statewide ban, and that’s what we got.

One takeaway for me is that the path to animal protection is often not completed with the enactment of a single bill or corporate action.  It often takes years, it takes a series of reforms and constant monitoring, and it definitely takes persistence to achieve sound policy outcomes for animals, as I wrote recently in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs. 

Yesterday, the trappers and the traditional apologists for commercial trapping spilled out their bromides about wildlife management and proper use of resources. But this is all pretense. Neither they nor state officials have any idea about the total number of bobcats living in the state. How do you manage a population when you have no idea how many there are? And what are you managing them to achieve, since they don’t threaten people or farm animals or any commercial interest. They are actually helpful to farmers by mainly subsisting on rats and mice as the primary foods in their diet. And in terms of their presence in Joshua Tree and other parks, they are a lure for visitors, just like Cecil the lion was at Hwange National Park, and bring value to communities just by going about their normal lives.

Earlier this year, Illinois representatives voted down a bobcat-killing bill on the final day of the legislative session. But downstate lawmakers in Illinois created a scene and demanded a re-vote. They made outlandish claims and nine lawmakers switched their votes from “no” to “yes,” allowing the bill to pass by just one vote. The measure may allow the use of packs of dogs to hunt bobcats and the use of inhumane and indiscriminate steel-jawed leghold traps.

That outcome in Illinois was awful, but we are not done fighting there. California again is showing the way, and the new policy there just gives us more motivation to protect bobcats across a wider swath of their range.



Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. Becky says:

    What wonderful news for beautiful creatures!

  2. David Bernazani says:

    Being a California resident, I was thrilled to hear the news of the bobcat trapping ban. Few things sicken me more than the thought of people catching and killing our beautiful native bobcats and selling their skins to foreign countries. What arrogance, to presume California’s natural wildlife is there for the killing, just to make some money, when every animal taken makes all of us that much poorer. It’s past time, but the thieves have finally been stopped. Thanks for everything, HSUS!
    By the way, nice title for the blog, also!

  3. Eric Mills says:

    Don’t count your chickens just yet, folks. I was at that Commission meeting last Wednesday (all four hours). The 3:2 vote to ban bobcat trapping statewide is great news. But be aware that the Dept. of Fish & Wildlife (DFW) is NOT bound to follow the Commission’s instructions. Truth be told, the Commission is in more of an advisory capacity. As the Commission’s Exec. Director, Sonke Mastrup, stated in 2010, “The Director acts at the pleasure of the Governor.” So much for the democratic process…..

    Prior to the 8/5 vote, the DFW Director, Chuck Bonham, announced his support for OPTION 1 (a partial ban, covering only about 50% of the state). He could well refuse to implement the will of the Commission, despite the fact that the Commission received more than 55,000 letters, emails and petition signatures in support of the statewide ban (and fewer than TWO DOZEN letters opposed, almost all with vested financial interests).

    WHAT YOU CAN DO: Write to Director Bonham and demand that the statewide ban approved by the Commission be implemented immediately.

    ADDRESS: Chuck Bonham, Director, Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, 1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, CA 95814; email – director@wildlife.ca.gov

    AND THIS: Why just bobcats, pray? The cats can still be hunted for their skins and “recreation” (as are about 700 annually). And what about the thousands of other furbearers: fox, mink, beaver, muskrat, marten, badger, et aL.?

    It’s time for statewide ballot initiatives to ban ALL commercial and/or recreational trapping for ALL furbearers, yes? And now’s the time. In light of the poor turnout for the last presidential election, it would require far fewer ballot signatures to qualify a ballot. Food for thought…..Now’s the time!

    Eric Mills, coordinator

  4. Tom O'Key says:

    Wildlife belongs to everyone. To our future generations and the Planet as it relates to itself in its own expression of how it has always been without man’s hand in the matters of natural systems.
    Citizens of the World should not allow Africa to cause the extinction of Elephants nor should it be tolerated that Orangutans be exterminated by Indonesia. It is known that these animals belong to our Planet. No-one has the right to remove them from the World!
    Bobcats are no different. They are not the property of Californian’s to kill as pleased any more than Gorillas are the property of the Congo to do as they please with them.
    Boundaries of nations are not boundaries for Wildlife. Governments must have one law regarding all Wildlife. A law of common compassion and respect. A law that recognizes the facts about the dire state of our Planet’s health in our Wildernesses and our Oceans.
    We must stop the notion that we know how to manage our World in the manner we have, as it is plainly obvious that if we did, all would be well in the Forest. But, it’s not! The Forest is crying. The Ocean is dying. And, sands of ruin speed through the hourglass in time running quickly out. We will be the fools of our own destruction, sitting comfortably, gazing into delusional mirrors of our blinded arrogant ignorance while our Planet withers to doom.
    Those who care are insufficient to stop the madness that is destroying our Planet. Please join in and take action to help and know this effort is extremely crucial.
    All it takes is to care enough to be aware of the issues and to speak out and add your voice in support of those who are on the front lines working for the benefit of our Environment.That’s how California’s Bobcats won their freedom from worry of dying for vanity sake.
    People stood up and said – “NO MORE!” Join them!
    Thank you, HSUS! Your mission is leading the way to hope and I am humbly grateful for all you do!
    You have been on the front lines throughout the Bobcat fight in California and I am so lucky this was so.
    Tom O’Key

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