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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wildlife Refuges -- Not Always A Refuge for Wildlife

Every year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service celebrates our country’s wildlife refuges with National Wildlife Refuge Week. Since Teddy Roosevelt’s simple “I so declare it” established Florida’s Pelican Island as the first refuge in 1903, 150 million acres of land and water have been set aside to serve as protected habitat for thousands of species. Visitors to these areas reconnect with nature through a variety of activities, including wildlife watching, hiking, kayaking, and photography.

Cynthia Barstad/South Florida Wildlife Center
A raccoon being treated at the South Florida Wildlife Center
after getting her leg caught in a leghold trap.

Few of the 46.5 million annual visitors to the “nation’s premier habitat conservation network,” however, realize that another activity occurring on these public lands—one never intended or anticipated even by the sportsman Teddy Roosevelt—puts the wildlife they’re striving to protect, as well as themselves, their children, and their pets, at serious risk.

The use of cruel, body-gripping traps is allowed on the majority of national wildlife refuges across America. Since much of the killing is done so the trappers can sell the fur pelts, it’s a private commercialization of wildlife and type of market hunting that flies in the face of 21st century wildlife management. And it violates the spirit of the vision that Roosevelt laid out for our national wildlands, too.

The killing devices include steel-jawed leghold traps that clamp down on an animal’s limb, body-crushing Conibear traps often set under water to drown the animals, and wire snares that are designed to strangle the trapped animal’s neck. Many of the animals caught in these traps experience excruciating pain and may resort to chewing or twisting off their limbs in a desperate attempt to escape. Because trappers often don’t have to return for at least 24 hours, the victims are left suffering for hours before being put out of their misery. More than 80 countries and several states have banned leghold traps, but they remain the most commonly used traps in the U.S.

Trappers intentionally kill as many as six million animals every year for recreation and commerce in fur pelts. But this astonishing number doesn’t even include the countless non-target species that are caught. Body-gripping traps are notoriously indiscriminate, and each year there are new horrifying tales of accidental victims, including beloved family pets and endangered species that are injured, maimed, and killed in these devices.

The lucky ones who survive their initial injuries may just need to have a limb amputated, but there are far too many cases where a pet owner simply didn’t get there in time or wasn’t able to free their pet before it was too late. And we cannot forget the story of Cub, the heroic dog who was rescued after he was found hobbling down the road on the exposed bones of his back legs. Veterinarians believe Cub’s hind legs had been caught in a trap, and he had to chew his way out. Although Cub has recovered and been adopted into a loving home, countless other animals aren’t as lucky.

Body-gripping traps pose a serious threat to public safety, especially on public lands visited by millions of American families. Just a few months ago, a 12-year old boy’s hand was smashed inside a Conibear trap. After he was rushed to the emergency room, it took six people to get the trap off his hand. This case should be an outrage to us all. The use of such traps is an unacceptable risk to human safety and has no place on federal lands.

With traditional hunting, sportsmen often talk about eating the meat of the animal, being selective with their targets, and making the kill as quick and humane as possible. None of these things are achieved with traps, which are like landmines, killing and injuring any animal who triggers them, causing them to suffer for long periods of time, and all for the commercial fur trade, not for food.

U.S. Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J., and U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey D-N.Y., are working to make our wildlife refuges safe from these body-gripping traps. They’ve introduced the Refuge from Cruel Trapping Act, S. 1081 and H.R. 2016, which would prohibit the use of body-gripping traps on national wildlife refuges, sparing countless animals from the cruel torture of these archaic killing devices.

The very concept of a refuge invokes the idea of shelter and protection, but if body-gripping traps are still allowed on these public lands, people and animals will remain at serious risk. Please contact your members of Congress and urge them to support S.1081 and H.R. 2016 (you can find your members of Congress here).

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