I-713 Hunting for answers

by Pia K. Hansen and Robert L. Stokes

Hunting regulation is back before the voters again this fall. Initiative 713 would make it a gross misdemeanor to capture an animal with a steel-jawed leghold trap, neck snare or other body gripping trap. It would also make it illegal to knowingly buy or sell a pelt from an animal trapped in this manner, as well as put an end to poisoning nuisance predators (often coyotes) with sodium flouroacetate or sodium cyanide.

Traditionally, hunters prefer trapping over shooting because it leaves the animal's pelt largely intact, except where the trap grabs a hold of it. Traps may also be used to regulate populations of animals that are difficult to catch, for instance because they are active at night.

However, since traps usually don't kill the animal right away, but only restrains it by the foot or lower leg, some trapped animals are left struggling until they die from exhaustion or exposure to predators. When the trap smacks shut, it may break the limb of the still living animal, and this, combined with the prolonged suffering, is what has animal rights activists up in arms.

"We decided to move forward because traps are simply cruel. Nobody can defend treating animals like this," says Lisa Wathne, campaign coordinator for Yes on I-713. "And no, this is not going to do away with the cat nooses used by animal control officers or the neck holds used by pet grooms. That's ridiculous. Common sense has to enter this somewhere."

Wathne is also the Washington state representative for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which is one of the main supporters of I-713 but is not affiliated with local animal shelters of the same name. The HSUS has supported similar initiatives that passed in New Jersey, Arizona, California and Colorado. She says that it's not only her group that backs the initiative, but nearly 100 other animal rights groups.

But some opponents of I-713 say that the initiative is not as much about protecting animals as it is about putting an end to fur trade in Washington once and for all. Since the HSUS also sponsors a campaign to end the use of fur in the fashion industry, opponents say this initiative is yet another stab at hunters by people who don't approve of using animals or animal byproducts at all.

"There have been [trapping] methods used in the past that would seem cruel and inhumane, however, the trapping public has taken great strides to better control their methods to alleviate these problems," says Dean Lydig, former Washington Wildlife Commissioner. "Trapping is a legitimate commercial or recreational activity, as long as the animals being harvested are not endangered and are in adequate numbers. There is no reason to take this drastic measure."

Lydig adds that I-713 is misguided and that initiatives are not the way to manage natural resources and wildlife -- the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) should take care of that.

A committee opposing I-713, called Citizens for Responsible Wildlife Management (CRWM), formed this spring, and 75 organizations (including Hunters Heritage Council, National Trappers Association and the Washington Wildlife Federation) are backing their stand. CRWM claims that a similar trapping ban in Massachusetts caused an explosion in the flat-tailed beaver population, which in turn caused significant problems with water quality and pollution. The beaver population also destroyed habitat crucial to certain species of turtles and trout. The trapping ban was later overturned. Washington state voted to prohibit the hunting of cougars with dogs in 1996 as I-655, but the state legislature overturned that measure later in part because of growing populations of cougar and reports of the big cats coming into contact with humans.

The DFW issues only about 500 trapping licenses a year, and since trappers have to file a report with a wildlife biologist for every trapped animal they bring home, Washington has a large and detailed collection of data about population fluctuations and sizes.