While we're on the subject of animals and conservation and the courts and the new, tougher crowd at the Interior Department, let's take a moment to look at what's going on with the bobcat.

Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, a 67-nation treaty, Interior's Fish and Wildlife Services issues permits to states that want to export overseas the skins of endangered animals, such as the bobcat. But those permits are given only after the service determines that such exports "will not be detrimental to the survival of the species . . . and were not obtained in violation of the law," according to a notice in the May 26 Federal Register (page 29192).

Enter another court decision, this time the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Last February, the court found that for the service to fulfill its responsibility in granting export permits, it must have a resliable estimate of the bobcat population and data showing how many bobcats are to be killed in the current year. It ruled that the criteria used by the service to make its determination were "invalid."

Interior, according to the notice, has "strongly recommended" that the decision be appealed to the Supreme Court, in part because "elusive, widespread species such as the bobcat, are very difficult to census." One official said last week he couldn't say how many bobcats there were in this country.

The service is proposing for the coming hunting season to ask the states to try for a bobcat census that would satisfy the court. One official said that as far as he knew, only Kansas tries to count its bobcats scientifically, using baited "scent posts" and counting how many bobcats stop by for a sniff.