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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Making Mountains Out of Mole Traps

The events that take place inside a state capitol building can have a major impact on animal welfare policy. But sometimes the events taking place outside the legislative chamber on capitol grounds can have an even more immediate and direct impact on animals themselves.

Coyote credit Christopher Bruno/SXC 
In 2000, Washington voters overwhelmingly approved
Initiative 713 to protect pets and wildlife from cruel and
indiscriminate trapping.

The Olympian reported on Groundhog Day that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife was investigating the illegal use of body-gripping traps to kill moles on the capitol lawns, including at the governor’s mansion. Washington voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 713 in 2000, by a vote of 55% to 45%, restricting the use of steel-jawed leghold traps, other body-gripping traps, and certain poisons that inhumanely and indiscriminately kill and maim wildlife and family pets. The mole trapping stopped when agency officials alerted groundskeepers to the state law, and no further enforcement action is expected.

Lawmakers in the pocket of agribusiness, however, have been exploiting the incident in an attempt to repeal the citizen-approved trapping law, as they’ve been unsuccessfully trying to do for the past decade. Republican state Rep. Joel Kretz of Wauconda—the former president of the Okanogan County Farm Bureau—told the press that he wants another opportunity to gut the measure, and expand the use of traps to kill coyotes and other creatures.

The intent of I-713 was to stop the use of cruel traps for recreation and commerce in fur, and bar the use of two toxic poisons (sodium fluoroacetate, also known as Compound 1080, and sodium cyanide, commonly used in M-44 ejectors which explode in an animal’s mouth or face) to kill predators. The moderate measure included exemptions that still allow the use of certain traps when they’re needed to protect livestock, private property, endangered species, or public health and safety.

The Humane Society of the United States and other backers of the law have said repeatedly that it shouldn’t apply to common gopher and mole traps—after all, no one is wearing mole fur coats. Animal welfare groups have tried to work with other stakeholders and pass clarifying legislation that would address the needs of the timber industry, small airports, parks and local government, and private land and homeowners.

But pro-trapping ideologues have repeatedly blocked these reasonable attempts at compromise. They don’t want problem-solving legislation, but instead want to resume the large-scale killing of animals for their fur. They introduce bills like H.B. 1115 and S.B. 5389, which represent a de facto repeal of the initiative. That legislation would allow the sale of fur pelts in Washington, opening up the private market for commerce and giving trappers a financial incentive for lethal control, and also allow the use of traps not just when a specific animal problem exists, but when any problem with any animal could potentially exist. When a similar repeal effort cleared the legislature in 2003, then-Gov. Gary Locke rightly vetoed it and upheld the will of the voters.

Legislators can address concerns with the law and make acceptable changes, but must maintain the integrity of I-713 and reject any efforts to open up recreational or commercial trapping of animals for their fur. It would be a slap in the face to Washington voters who approved the law a decade ago to gut any of the core provisions that protect pets and wildlife from cruel and indiscriminate trapping.

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