By Laura Zuckerman
(Reuters) - California on Wednesday became the first U.S. state to ban commercial and sport trapping of bobcats, amid growing controversy over hunting the abundant predators whose pelts can fetch hundreds of dollars.
The California Fish and Game Commission voted 3-2 to approve the measure, which was supported by Project Coyote and other conservation groups that gathered 30,000 signatures in an online petition.
The move comes less than a year after California took pioneering action by banning contests that award prizes for killing animals like coyotes that are not subject to hunting regulations.
The vote by the commission on Wednesday paired with the ban it imposed on prizes for so-called predator derbies underscored the state's willingness to lead the way in predator conservation and stewardship, said Camilla Fox, who heads the suburban San Francisco-based group Project Coyote.
But Hector Barajas, spokesman for the California Trappers Association, said the commission was serving as the political arm of animal-rights extremists.
Barajas said the state's roughly 100 licensed recreational and commercial trappers, who lately have tapped a thriving market for fur used in coats and other apparel in China and Russia, were already limited in terms of the locations where they could trap bobcats.
In 2013, lawmakers approved a law that ended trapping adjacent to national and state parks, refuges and other sites where it was already banned.
Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, in signing the measure into law, said at the time that funding should be secured to survey the state's bobcat population to better inform wildlife commissioners setting trapping limits.
But Barajas said the survey has not yet taken place. He said that trappers would be hurt by losing the opportunity to harvest an animal whose pelt can sell for several hundred dollars.
Commissioners who voted in favor of the ban could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday afternoon.
Bobcats, named for a short – or bobbed – black-tipped tail, are roughly twice the size of an average house cat and, although rarely seen, the creature is the most abundant wildcat in the United States and has the greatest range of all wild cats in North America, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Sandra Maler)