The Bobcat Trapper
Riverton trapper Tom Krause shows me around his workshop where furs of every sort are displayed on the wall.
“I have some pelts here that you might be interested in. To begin I have a melanistic phase of a raccoon, which is a black raccoon or the opposite of being albino.”
Ermine, wolverine, lynx, Krause has furs from all over the world. He’s been trapping since he was 13 when he caught and sold his first mink back in the 1950s. He says, back then, a single mink brought in as much as a man got paid digging ditches for a week. In his 30s, Krause even made a living as a trapper and it’s always supplemented his income.
Soon, we come to the bobcat pelt. I reach out to touch it and it’s soft as bunny fur.
“So this animal here is well spotted throughout the whole body and has a broad deep belly. So this is one of the more valuable bobcats.”
This winter, Krause trapped 13 bobcats. A buyer recently came to town and he sold them all.
“I had some pretty nice bobcat pelts this year and my average price on that was $400,” Krause says. “So I was happy with that.”
Thirteen pelts at $400 a pop means Krause made about $5,300 this year on bobcat pelts. Meanwhile, a beaver pelt only goes for $8, coyotes $50, otters $30. Even lynx are significantly less, around $70. Krause says sometimes fur buyers even pay as much as $1000 for an extra special bobcat pelt. It's the only spotted feline that's still legal to trap in the world. And Wyoming’s bobcats are incredibly soft while those out east or in the Midwest are wiry and stiff. It takes about 30 bobcat bellies to make a coat. Krause shows me one he had made for his wife.
“When I had this made it was appraised at $3500,” he says. “Today it would be worth more, maybe twice that much.”
Internationally, bobcat coats can sell for $100,000 to the world’s extremely wealthy, especially Europeans, Chinese and Russians.
“If people have a lot of money and want to really be flashy and show their money, a bobcat belly garment is attractive and valuable to some of those people.”
The Value Of A Live Bobcat
A recent study, though, says that Wyoming could be making much more on bobcats by leaving them alive. Lisa Robertson is the president of Wyoming Untrapped. She came up with the idea of putting a dollar value on live animals while watching a wild bobcat on the Madison River near Jackson.
“There was a BBC photographer there as well and he’d been there for two weeks, photographing and filming, and we sort of worked together, finding the bobcat, watching it, enjoying it. And we realized, this is a very valuable bobcat.
Many tourists made special trips to Wyoming to photograph the Madison River bobcat that winter. So Robertson started reaching out to wildlife watchers to see how much they’d spent in Wyoming on such trips on things like hotel stays, restaurants and gas money.
“The number we came up with for this bobcat for just those three months for just those people we contacted was $308,105,” Robertson says. “And in a market where tourism is the second largest industry in Wyoming, generating $3.2 billion a year, that’s a remarkable number for one single animal.”
Comparatively, Robertson found that a trapper making a trip to kill one animal only brings in $315 for the state’s economy.
And Robertson says trapping them is also inhumane. To preserve their pelts, bobcats are choked to death rather than killed with a quicker gunshot. And in Wyoming, trappers only have to check their traps every three days.
“When there’s cold temperatures and it’s minus ten degrees, minus 20, that bobcat cannot feel its paw. And there’s a good chance it’s going to bite that foot off or rip it off.”
Robertson would like to see Wyoming require trappers to check every 24 hours instead. And Robertson says, with the value of bobcat pelts so high, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department needs to set a quota, alimit on how many bobcats can be taken a year. Ten years ago, over 3,036 bobcats were trapped, but last year, it was only 1,397, half as many.
“I think there are more trappers in recent years and they’re catching actually less bobcat, which means to me that there just aren’t as many bobcats out there.”
Yet a 2010 Fish and Wildlife Management Study shows that bobcat numbers are actually increasing in most states.
“Wyoming has some great bobcat habitat and associated bobcat numbers,” says Wyoming Game and Fish Deputy Chief Scott Edberg. He says they’re a very elusive species, and that’s why he thinks trapping permits are the only way to keep track of population numbers. But, he says, his agency still re-evaluates the bobcat season every few years.
“We’re always looking if there’s something out there that needs to be tweaked or changed but we feel that the current statues and regs are working.”
Keeping Wildlife Wild
Out in his garage, Trapper Tom Krause demonstrates how a #2 foothold trap works.
“So this trap will be staked solidly in the ground and then covered with dirt,” he says, opening its jaws. “But I’ll go ahead and spring this trap now.” It snaps shut with a loud clank.
Krause wrote a handbook on how to safely and more humanely trap, especially the importance of following regulations very carefully.
“Yeah, they can be over-harvested and that’s possible,” Krause admits. The state of California banned bobcat trapping after one trapper extirpated the species from one local area.
“I think knowledgeable trappers understand that if they want to be back next year, they need to leave seed.”
He says, he advices trappers to release females and kittens.
“I think it’s really good that we harvest and pursue some wildlife because it keeps them wild and they get smarter and the genetics are passed on.”
Wildlife advocates aren’t convinced. The Center for Biological Diversity’s Jean Su says the international fur market is affecting North American wildlife and recently filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A judge recently denied a request to dismiss the case. Another hearing is set for later this month.