Bobcats need protection, not killing for their pelts

By Ted Williams

Unlike the rest of modern wildlife management, killing bobcats is unregulated, driven not by science but by fur prices. We’re stuck in the 19th Century when market hunters, for example, shot boatloads of waterfowl with 10-foot-long, 100-pound “punt guns.”

Now, there’s a campaign in Colorado—via a November 2024 ballot initiative—to ban hunting and trapping of bobcats, Canada lynx and mountain lions, though lynx are already listed by the state as endangered and supposedly protected.

As a lifelong hunter and angler, I’m told by a group called the Sportsmen’s Alliance that it’s my duty to defend bobcat trapping and hunting against such “antis” as those pushing the ballot initiative. 

But a true sportsmen’s alliance of ethical hunters—Teddy Roosevelt, George Bird Grinnell, William Hornaday, Congressman John Lacey, and other Boone and Crockett Club members—got most market hunting banned in 1918.

It persists today as commercial trapping and hunting of bobcats. Ethical hunters eat what they kill. Bobcat trappers and hunters discard the meat and sell pelts, mostly for export to China and Russia.

Yet the Sportsmen’s Alliance warns me that, after bobcat trapping gets banned, “hunting … and even fishing are the next traditions in the antis’ crosshairs.”

I don’t buy it. I’ve heard this mantra since the 1970s, including from my then-colleagues at the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife who, like me, were fed and clothed by fishing, trapping and hunting license dollars.

This from veteran bobcat researcher Dr. Mark Elbroch of the native cat conservation group Panthera: “Colorado treats bobcats pretty much like they’re treated throughout the West” (except for California where killing is banned without a special permit.)

“There are hardly any regulations in any state. No bag limits, no data on how many are out there. The hunting community gets super excited about what it calls the ‘North American Model of Conservation,’ and one of the tenets is you don’t kill for profit or trade,” Elbroch continued. “Trapping violates that model in every way. Bobcat trapping is the extreme—selling fur for luxury items. It’s sickening.”

From December through February, Colorado bobcat hunters and trappers may kill as many bobcats as they please. And hunters are permitted to pursue bobcats with hounds, an inhumane practice for both cats and hounds.

Bobcat traps are also unselective, catching other species such as Canada lynx, raptors, otters, foxes, martens, badgers, opossums and skunks. “Lynx, a close relative to bobcats, are naturally attracted to bait set for bobcats and are harmed, injured or killed when caught in traps,” said Colorado veterinarian Christine Capaldo.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife attempts to rebut such reports with: “No lynx in Colorado has ever been reported as accidentally trapped by bobcat fur harvesters.” Of course not. What bobcat trapper would jeopardize permissive regulations by filing such a report?

So, in addition to an estimated 2,000 bobcats, how many non-target animals are killed by the roughly 4,000 bobcat traps annually set in Colorado? No one has a clue.

Colorado requires “humane” live traps. But they’re scarcely more humane than legholds and less humane than quick-kill conibear traps.

During winter, bobcats keep warm by finding shelter. In live traps they’re immobilized and exposed to cold, rain, snow and wind. Traps must be checked every 24 hours, but there’s virtually no enforcement, so live-trapped bobcats sometimes suffer for days. When traps do get checked bobcats get bludgeoned or strangled.

Before European contact, bobcats prospered throughout what are now the contiguous states. Caucasian immigrants quickly set about rectifying this with an all-out war on the species, behavior that flabbergasted the Indigenous and for which their only explanation was that the pale faces were insane. By the early 20th century, bounties and government control had extirpated bobcats from much of the U.S.

Now bobcats are slowly recovering in every contiguous state save Delaware. That’s an excellent reason not to kill them.

Bobcats belong to all Americans, the vast majority of whom prefer them alive. But they’re managed for the very few people who kill them for profit. And from a strictly financial perspective, live bobcats are more valuable than dead ones.

A study published in 2017 in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation, based on money spent by wildlife photographers, set the value of a single live bobcat at $308,000. Today the average bobcat pelt fetches $100.

Ted Williams is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring conversation about the West. He writes about fish and wildlife for national publications.

Bobcat caught in a trap, photo courtesy of Animal Wellness Action

This column was published in the following newspapers:

05/07/2024 Denver Post Denver CO
05/06/2024 Grand Junction Daily Sentinel Grand Junction CO
05/07/2024 Marinscope community newspapers Marin County CA
05/08/2024 Aspen Daily News Aspen CO
05/07/2024 Rock Springs Rocket Miner Rock Springs WY
05/08/2024 Montrose Daily Press Montrose CO
05/10/2024 Pagosa Springs Sun Pagosa Springs CO
05/09/2024 Taos News Taos NM
05/09/2024 Laramie Boomerang Laramie WY
05/11/2024 Moab Sun Moab UT
05/12/2024 Durango Telegraph Durango CO
05/13/2024 Greeley Tribune Greeley CO
05/12/2024 Aspen Times Aspen CO
05/11/2024 Carlsbad Current-Argus Carsbad NM
05/13/2024 KVNF Radio Paonia CO
05/14/2024 MSN.COM Seattle WA
05/13/2024 Farmington Daily Times Farmington NM
05/14/2024 Alamogordo Daily News Alamogordo NM
05/16/2024 Steamboat Pilot Steamboat Springs CO
05/15/2024 Judith Basin Press Judith Basin County MT
05/16/2024 Colorado Springs Independent Colorado Springs CO
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Mary
15 days ago

Thanks so much for this well-written update!

Connie Poten
15 days ago

In Montana, bobcats are getting rarer each year due to trapping. Even trappers complain, but they don’t want to stop trapping. Fish, Wildlife and Parks caters to trappers above sound wildlife management. With drought, fires, and habitat destruction, bobcats and all predators face a dire future. Trapping has no place in the 21st century. It’s cruel and archaic, and provides few people–if anyone–with a living. The market for fur crashed a decade ago.
As Ted Williams points out, trapping has nothing in common with hunting: the trapper isn’t even there to see his target or make a quick, humane kill or release a non-target animal. The ethics of trapping are about not damaging the pelt, which has nothing to do with ethics. There’s no excuse for trapping and it is destroying the environment. The majority of hunters know this.

David Neils
14 days ago

As a wildlife conservationist, hunter and fisherman, the welfare of bobcats should be the primary focus of all bobcat management plans wherever bobcats are found. In fact, every wildlife species that falls under the management responsiblity of a state wildlife agency should benefit from the development and implementation of the wildlife management plan for that species. Rarely is this the case, especially for predators.

This should be the litmus test for every wildlife species managed by our state wildlife agencies. The management plan must directly support the biological and ecological factors that a wildlife species is dependent on for a healthy population. This goes way beyond the wet finger in the air population estimates by our state agencies. Biological factors include kitten survival, age class stratification and other factors.

In Colorado, wildlife are managed for the benefit of the visitors and citizens of Colorado. They are not managed to support the welfare of the species. Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission Policy states:

“It is the policy of the state of Colorado that the wildlife and their environment are to be protected, preserved, enhanced, and managed for the use, benefit, and enjoyment of the people of this state and its visitors.”

The welfare of wildlife is not the focus of wildlife management by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Claire Perry
14 days ago
Reply to  David Neils

The benefit and enjoyment of “the people” regarding wildlife management, directly speaks to using *best science* as the primary management goal.

The hunting/trapping community is approximately 11% of the population (“the people”). *Generally, close to 90% of today’s population is non-consumptive regarding the wildlife. Predators and sound predator stewardship is vital to the ecological health of nature’s well-balanced, Chain of Life. Protecting and placing high priority on value of the predators should be Rule #1.

But nothing will change until people start using their voices against the Hunting/Trapping Community MINORITY. Change CAN happen. It is very “doable.” We only need to be organized and active. Common sense, general compassion, and best science are all on our side.

Claire Perry
14 days ago

In Maine, the bobcat is subjected to trapping, and up to six hound dogs can be “set upon a bobcat” in the name of “hunting.” In Maine, a person doesn’t have to get landowner permission to enter private property. All private land is considered OPEN to hunters…unless it is POSTED. Packs of “hunting” hound dogs are allowed to run at large ALL YEAR LONG in the pursuit of a coyote.

Up to SIX big hound dogs…running amok in our fields and woods…all year round ! That means in the springtime…when all manner of wildlife are trying to raise their very vulnerable young; including the bobcat and her kittens.

Why is there not an organization with a lawyer threatening legal action, unless better science-based wildlife management is instigated? The wildlife belongs to ALL of us…not just the hunting and trapping community. I would appreciate a response to this issue please. I think it is time to get something started. Packs of SIX hound dogs, running at large over private land (unless posted) with no conceivable means of monitoring the damage done…is simply irresponsible, and an invitation for putting the public in grave and immanent danger of being attacked. There is already an example of this very thing happening to a couple and their dog in Ripton Vermont…walking a public trail; the Sigmans. Vermont’s Wildlife Department has a record of their public testimony regarding this incident: A man, his wife and their dog were all attacked by a pack of “hunting” hound dogs. They all had to receive emergency medical care. They fought off the hound dogs for a half hour, before the owners of the dogs caught up with them. Meryl Sigman testified…” If it hadn’t been for the fact that we were carrying bear-spray, I truly believe we, and most certainly our dog, would have been killed.”

Thank you for your article. I look forward to hearing from you.

Anne
14 days ago

Bobcats are finally, hooray, moving back into Iowa, the state that has less of its original landscape left than any other. Their reward for returning is being caught in traps. I’m cheering for that Colorado initiative. I wish we Iowans had a citizen initiative option here, because our statehouse is currently ruled by people whose concern for wildlife and all natural resources is minimal. I’m happy that some other states are doing better, and I really appreciate this good story. Thanks, Ted Williams.

Jorgan Holtcamp
13 days ago

Absolute BS article strictly written with emotions and zero factual evidence or science. Bobcats are thriving in Colorado and don’t mention that supporting this bill to ‘save’ bobcats eliminates the already very strict but effective regulation of mountain lions completely and throws it into the hands of the taxpayers as government TRAPPERS will then continue to kill just as many lions. Let’s not forget to mention the recent disaster of the wolves already killing livestock also forcing taxpayers to front that bill. This is a stupid, garbage article using a ‘fisherman’ as a smoke screen to blind uneducated voters.

Tracey Spence
13 days ago

Thank you for this write-up. I will vote to ban hunting and trapping of bobcats, lynx and mountain lions in November 2024. I am now a new subscriber to Writers On The Range.

Christine vercellino
10 days ago

Thank you so much Ted. I am one of the people all over Colorado gathering signatures . We are working so hard . We appreciate people like you from the hunting community who set forth a strong case why this cruelty , killing needs to stop. Thank you so much

Last edited 10 days ago by Christine vercellino

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