In Nevada, bobcat pelts are registered with a state wildlife biologist, who fastens a yellow numbered federal tag to each one, certifying that it was harvested by a licensed trapper and clearing it for commercial sale. Credit: Max Whittaker for Reveal

This story updates our investigation into bobcat trapping.

A new lawsuit would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to evaluate the environmental impacts of bobcat trapping before their pelts can be exported under a key international treaty.

“The removal of nearly 60,000 bobcats from U.S. soil each year to fuel the international fur market warrants serious analysis, not zero analysis,” Matthew Bishop, an attorney for WildEarth Guardians, said in a statement. The organization filed suit in federal court Tuesday. “The agency has mismanaged the domestic side of what is otherwise an important treaty.”

Fur trapping might seem like a relic of bygone days. But in recent years, the practice has boomed in America, driven by demand for fur overseas, as Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting detailed in January. That is especially true for bobcat pelts, which are made into luxury garments and can be worth more than $1,000 each. In 2014, more than 57,000 bobcat pelts were shipped to foreign markets.

As the Reveal investigation showed, the practice relies on methods that can inflict prolonged suffering and ensnare other animals – such as pet dogs, eagles and mountain lions – by mistake.

The suit says the Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to evaluate the environmental impact of trapping bobcats and four other species – Canada lynx, gray wolves, river otters and brown bears – regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which was ratified by the U.S. in the 1970s. The agency did not respond to a request for comment.

The suit also points out that many other species often are caught and killed by mistake in leg-hold traps and snares set for bobcats.

“We’ve seen a lot of instances of companion animals being trapped,” said Bethany Cotton, WildEarth Guardians’ wildlife program director. “It’s way more common than most people think. It’s quite dangerous for folks out with their dogs.”

Tom Knudson can be reached at tknudson@cironline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @tomsplace.

Tom Knudson is a reporter for Reveal, covering the environment. He is the recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes and a 2004 award for global environmental reporting from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Reuters. Over the years, he has reported on a wide range of subjects, including the abuse of migrant forest workers in the American West, overfishing in Mexico's Sea of Cortez and the environmental degradation of California's Sierra Nevada mountain range. Knudson is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.