Make Basin no-hunt zone
Bobcat season came to a close at the end of January for trappers. Hunters, however, have until this Saturday to reach their limit of five. A hunter can’t sell the pelts; trappers can. There isn’t a limit per trapper, or by county, but the statewide limit is 14,400 bobcats per year i.e. 20% of the estimated population of 72,000 bobcats in California determined in the late ‘70s by the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW).
Defenders of Wildlife contested that figure in court and won. However, it was used anyway.
Thirty-five years later, it is very outdated along with the quotas. The Governor has urged the DFW to conduct bobcat surveys and to update the harvest quotas. However, bobcats are elusive and hard to count. It would be expensive to do a bobcat census and, because of that, it is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
Last year 77 pelts were harvested from Mono County—a ten year high along with 157 from Inyo County – their second highest in ten years. I believe the increase reflects the increase in pelt prices more than an increase in bobcat population.
Based on DFW’s assumption that the annual harvest is 20% of the population, there supposedly were 385 bobcats in Mono County before the hunting season began. I find that hard to believe. People are hiking, birding, camping here, there, and everywhere and rarely does anyone spot a bobcat. There are a few areas though, where locals have consistently seen a bobcat for a year or two and then no more. Now you know why. If you are still seeing a bobcat, count your blessings. It is probably in an area that hasn’t been hunted yet. If you do see a bobcat, please let me know.
In the past 10 years there have been up to 7 trappers working Mono County from the Walker River to the Sherwin Grade. The most a single trapper has harvested in one year in Mono County is 16. Heavily trapped areas are around Bridgeport, Benton and the Sherwin Grade. These areas have the lowest human populations, fewest homes, and are snow free during the trapping season. From the data that is available, the Mono Basin is not the preferred trapping site. The Mono Basin, from Conway Summit to Bodie/Cottonwood Canyon to the Mono Craters to Hartley Springs has been worked 6 out of the last 10 years with an average harvest of 8.5 bobcats. The highest take was 18 bobcats in the Mono Basin, in the winter of 2011-12. Unfortunately for the bobcats, it has been easier for trappers to pull from Mono Basin in the recent drought years because of lack of snow.
Most hunters trap a different area each year and return only every three years to the same spot. This tells me that the harvest is decimating the population and then has to build back up or that other bobcats wander in from other areas. Because trapping is loosely tracked, we won’t know when the last bobcat is taken from an area. It is not a sustainable practice if the populations are severely thinned and it is a very damaging to the ecosystem. It would cause fluctuations in the prey populations (rabbits and rodents) as well.
The new Bobcat Protection Act (AB 1213) passed in 2014 creates a no-trapping buffer around Joshua Tree National Park and empowers the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) Commission to establish no-trapping zones “adjacent to the boundaries of each national or state park and national monument or wildlife refuge in which bobcat trapping is prohibited.” Starting in 2016, areas like the Mono Basin Scenic Area and adjacent South Tufa State Park can become a bobcat protected area, too. The buffer zone surrounding the scenic area could extend to Yosemite National Park and the Wilderness areas to the west creating a migration corridor for bobcats to relocate should global warming change their current habitat. It could include the entire Mono basin so one doesn’t need a GPS to find the boundary and it could extend to Crestview to provide a wider range of habitat (slightly higher elevation, rocky, with good den sites) including the June Lake area. The June Lake area is an eco-tourist area, like the Mono Lake Scenic Area, where visitors would enjoy seeing an occasional bobcat in the wild.
The Center for Biological Diversity has proposed a statewide ban on bobcat hunting, but the DFW has presented a proposal identifying broad no-hunting zones. Large no-hunting zones would be easier to manage and to geographically identify than many smaller buffer zones around this park or that. The Mono Basin Scenic Area is not in the DFW’s no-hunting zone, but the area around Bodie State Park is. (In a previous version, all of Mono County was in the no-hunting zone.) The Commission will present a formal proposal at their next meeting on April 8-9 in Santa Rosa. Then they may make a decision at the following meeting that will be held in Mammoth on June 10-11.
Our bobcats need your help. Please write to the DFG Commission before their next meeting at email@example.com (please include the subject of the regulations in the e-mail subject line) and ask them to make the Mono Basin a no-hunting zone for our renowned felines who have eluded the trap.