California's Trapping Ban: A closer look at the ramifications


Its been over a week since the official news of California’s all-encompassing ban on regulated fur trapping activities at the behest of state politicians.

For many, the decision came as no surprise, given the historic (and often questionable) legislative decisions and ballot reforms that have plagued "the Sunshine State" for decades. Equally important to note - the recent passage of a ban on trapping is just the first in a line of restrictive legislation that includes outlawing a citizen’s choice of garment materials like animal fur, banning the inclusion of certain animals in circus events, and banning the hunting of certain mesopredators like bobcats. So much for the “you’re paranoid if you think we’re here to take everything” argument.

With regard to the trapping ban, people are right to (and should) be outraged; and more importantly, concerned.

Although the notion of an outright ban on a (already heavily regulated) human lifestyle choice seems absurd, its what many have come to expect from a state where you can earn more than $184,000 a year in salary and benefits for cleaning up human feces in the streets. Homelessness, mental health issues, crime, typhus outbreaks - we’re glad to see California’s politicians have their priorities in order by snuffing out those “benign” trappers and fur-coat owners.

Crazy? Absolutely. But the icing on the insanity cake came from the Governor’s office, where the announcement on the decision to ban trapping was proudly carried out with the assistance of a sock puppet on the office’s offical social media page.

Suffice to say, based on this level of “crazy”, any argument in support of what little regulated trapping California had left was likely doomed long before a trapping ban was ever passed.

Pest Control or Natural Resources?

The number one recurring response from our readers in regards to news of the ban was the obvious notion that “the state will regret its decision when predators such as coyotes, and diseases such as rabies spiral out-of-control as a result of the ban”.

While we can all agree these things can and do happen in the face of mismanagement in most states, we’re not so sure its the current case with California. Why? Because its already been happening for the last decade.

First, a history lesson.

While last week’s official ban does in fact set a precedent, it by no means laid the fatal stake in the heart of California’s trapping community. Proposition 4, which took place in 1998, had far more detrimental ramifications for the state’s ecosystem than last week’s ban. Similar to the emotional knee-jerk plight of the recent trapping ban, Prop4 banned the usage of foothold traps - a device that is contended by professionals as the most effective means of catching large wild canids like foxes and coyotes. A laundry list of credible organizations came out to fight the proposition - including the Audubon Society and other conservation groups. With Prop4 essentially regulating fur trappers (and furbearer management techniques) out of existence in the late 1990’s, the “surviving” rural trappers were few and far between.

A coyote trots past shoppers in a local parking lot unphased by the presence of humans.

As a result, today California has one of the highest coyote/wildlife conflict trends of any other state in the union. While the effects of Proposition 4 weren’t initially felt by an otherwise oblivious citizenry, the increasing trends of wildlife conflict in urban neighborhoods skyrocketed throughout the 2000’s.

And it continues today. The proverbial ink wasn’t even dry on last week’s trapping ban when residents of Torrance, a suburb of Los Angeles, won a local battle forcing their city council to remove problem coyotes that pose a threat to pets and small children. The control included (wait for it) trapping.

Torrance isn’t alone. Countless municipalities have acquired contracts with professional “damage control” trappers to mitigate exploding predator conflict across the state. While the latest ban spared licensed damage control trappers from dealing with problem wildlife, it did eliminate the more regulated and controlled method of wildlife management - seasonal fur trapping. When an animal is deemed a nuisance, there’s usually little (if any) time spent thinking about the season, breeding time, or ethical “usage” of the animal’s remains - which was all effectively eliminated by politicians thinking they knew what was best for California’s wildlife last week. While in-season fur trapping can be regulated by state agencies as a preemptive means of management, damage control on the other hand is reactive - it takes place after an issue arises rather than seeking to reduce said issues through ethical usage.

Those opposed to wildlife management, like activist group Project Coyote (which ironically hails from California), might argue we’re fanning the flames of over-exaggeration with regard to the trends on coyote conflicts in the 21st century. But are we?

A study published in 2004 documented forty-eight (48) attacks on children and adults from 1998 through 2003 in California alone. This was compared to 41 attacks from 1988 through 1997 - prior to the state’s Proposition 4 trapping restrictions. Fourteen (14) more attacks have been reported in California since that 2004 report, with little signs of the conflict slowing down.

None of those reports include the other countless daily occurrences of coyote conflict throughout the state of California, ranging from coyotes entering people’s homes through open doors, killing household pets, showing aggression towards children and outdoor recreationalists, or meeting their demise on the state’s intricate highways. The search of media reports regarding coyote conflict in California alone is enough to leave one dazed and confused.

And its not just a city problem. The California Department of Fish & Wildlife maintains agreements with organizations like USDA’s Wildlife Services to control predator populations (including coyotes) in the absence of those civilian fur trappers, who, as of last week, are no longer an option.

But hey - the seemingly “cruel” practice of regulated seasonal trapping has been abolished; and this type of “feel good” endeavor is what seems to sell. The animal rights community has become accustomed to the inconvenient truths behind these kinds of restrictions effectively swept under the proverbial rug and chalked up to a growing human population, all while negating the lack of science suggesting the “non-lethal stance” should somehow be the only one in the conservation toolbox.

The trends Tell the story

Bottom line - while last week’s ban may have little impact on wildlife disease and conflict issues, its the sentiment behind the ban that perpetuates these issues. In California, its clearly been festering for decades. What last week’s ban did successfully prove is that politicians are acting quick to ban these activities before its citizens realize the interest and benefits thereof.

While the lawmakers behind the trapping ban were preaching to the media that the fur trapping community was a “minority group” destined to be “naturally” snuffed out anyway, license trends in California seemed to suggest interest in fur trapping was actually increasing prior to the ban’s institution. Of course, the animal rights industry was well aware of the trend - pushing hard in both California and nationally to enact bans on the controlled usage of fur in the face of a growing global demand and interest in wild fur.

Despite the signs, urban wildlife conflict continues to rise in California. (Photo | Felix E. Guerrero)

In essence, the myth that fur trapping and ethical fur usage is on the decline and not widely accepted by citizens of the world is, frankly, false.

We bring up these talking points not with intent to “bash” the state of California. There’s a lot of good people in California with a lot of good ideas and common sense. Sadly, they’re increasingly overshadowed by a cross-section of the populous who’s wheels squeak louder than the rest; and who’ve spent a concerning amount of resources building a wall around the common-sense usage and conservation of our cherished natural resources.

We do, however, have to give credit where credit is due. The driving forces behind California’s onslaught of “animal friendly” bans and legislation have succeeded in doing what professionals and scientists in the wildlife management world of North America have been growing increasingly concerned about:

Frivolous bans like California’s trapping ban demonstrate the reversal of wildlife management issues from a scientific and ethically-sound topic to a socially driven one.

More and more, state wildlife agencies seem to be “going with the political flow” rather than explaining why activities like regulated hunting and trapping are beneficial to begin with.

No amount of data, studies, research, or fact-based trends can contend with this kind of mindset. The question now is whether other states and urban metropolises will follow California into the muddy mess of “hands-off” wildlife management; and how far over the proverbial edge our wildlife will inevitably be pushed before the public at large sees through the facade?

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