California Just Became the First State to Ban Fur Trapping

Wildlife advocates celebrate new law, look ahead to possible statewide ban on sale of fur.

California just became the first state in the country to ban fur trapping, solidifying its position as a trailblazer on wildlife issues. The Wildlife Protection Act of 2019, which Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law yesterday, bans commercial and recreational trapping animals for their fur on both public and private lands.

photo of Tucson, AZ house
This week, California banned trapping on public and private lands, ending the recreational and commercial trapping of animals like coyotes (pictured), fox, beavers, mink and other animals whose pelts are often sold in foreign fur markets. Photo by Matt "Smooth Tooth" Knoth / Flickr.

The move, which follows a 2015 ban on bobcat trapping, was celebrated by wildlife conservation and animal welfare groups that have been pushing legislators to update the state’s wildlife laws. As Brendan Cummings, conservation director with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), put it in a statement, the change “marks a milestone in the process of bringing California’s wildlife laws into the twenty-first century.”

“This momentous law, which was spearheaded by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, will spare countless foxes, coyotes, beavers, and other wild animals from the unnecessary fur trade,” adds Camilla Fox, executive director of Project Coyote, an Earth Island project that promotes coexistence with wildlife. “For centuries, fur trapping has caused agonizing deaths for an untold number of animals.”

Fur trapping goes way back in the Golden State, which was built in large part on the backs of the animals that were killed by the hundreds of thousands for their pelts, western traders, and the Indigenous peoples who provided much of the fur to sustain the industry. The trade predates the Gold Rush by half a century.

But as groups like CBD and Social Compassion in Legislation, which co-sponsored AB 273, point out, the trade is outdated, and is partially responsible for extirpation of wolves and wolverines from California, as well as severe declines in sea otters, fishers, martens, and beavers. Not to mention the animal suffering resulting from trapping and pelt-preserving methods of killing. The bill’s supporters also noted that in California, at least, trapping is no longer economically viable, which means the costs of regulating the industry have been subsidized by taxpayers. The 113 trapping licenses sold in 2017, for example, resulted in the deaths of 1,500 animals but generated just over $15,000 in revenue, not enough to cover the costs of a well-managed program.

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“Commercial fur trapping is ecologically, economically and ethically bad policy, and I commend Governor Newsom for valuing our wildlife rather than simply considering these animals as commodities to be trapped, tortured, skinned and sold,” Judie Mancuso, founder and CEO of Social Compassion in Legislation, said in a statement. “Once again, California is leading the charge, creating a legislative blueprint other states can follow to ban this out-of-date industry.” 

The new law does not impact hunting or wildlife-management-related trapping in California. But advocates hope it will inspire similar efforts to ban commercial and recreation trapping elsewhere.

California was already ahead of many states when it came to regulating the industry, and had imposed restrictions on the use of body-gripping traps — including leghold traps, conibear traps, and snares — that grip animals, often painfully, by the leg, neck, or other body part; strict requirements around trap-checking; and restrictions on the most archaic “pelt-preserving” killing methods, like chest crushing and drowning.  The state accounts for a small share of national trapping: During the 2014-2015 fur-hunting season, the US had more than 175,000 licensed trappers. California records indicate that in 2017, the state had just 68.

The state may soon lead on other wildlife conservation and animal welfare fronts as well. As Project Coyote’s Fox says, the California is “on the verge of passing two more bills that will be precedent-setting for the nation,” including a ban on trophy hunting of bobcats and the sale and trade of fur. AB 44, which would ban the sale of most fur products in the state, has already passed in the Assembly and is currently under consideration in the Senate. The bill, which contains exceptions for used fur products and those used in “traditional tribal, cultural, or spiritual purposes” would build upon bans passed in several municipalities, including Los Angeles, West Hollywood, San Francisco, and Berkeley, and commitments by a growing list of fashion brands — including Chanel, Burberry, Versace, and many more — to go fur free.  

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