PAWS Magazine

Issue 44, Winter 2000

PAWS supports initiative efforts to outlaw cruel and indiscriminate traps and poisons in Washington State

One glimpse of a wild animal struggling desperately to free herself from the steel jaws of a leghold trap is enough to convince anybody that trapping is cruel.

Body-gripping traps cause severe injury and suffering to animals. These traps are designed to slam closed on an animal’s leg or other body part. Painful lacerations, broken bones and joint dislocations can result. Further injury often occurs as the animal struggles to free herself, sometimes breaking her teeth and tearing her gums from biting at the metal trap. In desperation, a trapped animal will often chew her own foot off to escape from the trap.

Animals caught in body-gripping traps often do not die quickly. They can languish for hours and even days, suffering from terror, thirst, starvation and exposure to the elements or predators. Animals still alive when the trapper checks his trapline are killed by bludgeoning, stomping, strangulation or shooting.

In reality, the number of animals trapped every year far exceeds trappers’ yearly reports. Traps do not discern between "target" animals and unintended victims. Family pets, small mammals, birds of prey, and even threatened and endangered species can fall prey to cruel leghold traps. Studies demonstrate that for every target animal trapped, between one and three non-target animals are captured and killed.

Poisons used to kill fur-bearing predators like coyotes are equally cruel and indiscriminate. Secondary deaths frequently result when other animals, including family pets and protected species, feed on the remains of poisoned victims. Animals poisoned with Compound 1080 or sodium cyanide suffer an agonizing death.

Trapping in Washington State

In the last two years, more than 35,000 wild animals, including otters, bobcats, mink and beavers were killed by commercial and recreational trappers in Washington state. These animals struggled and suffered prolonged, painful deaths after being caught in body-gripping traps such as steel-jawed and padded leghold traps, and leg and neck snares.

Washington has some of the most lax trap-check laws in the country. Trappers are only required to check traps every 48 to 72 hours, except in a few urban areas where traps must be checked every 24 hours.

Contrary to trappers’ claims, commercial and recreational trapping is not a wildlife management tool. Trapping activity is driven largely by the fluctuating prices of fur pelts, not by the need to manage wildlife. Many trappers openly admit this fact and abstain from trapping when pelt prices are low. Average pelt prices for 1997-98 were: $16 beaver, $42 bobcat, $11 red fox, $16 marten, $9 mink, $2 muskrat, $40 river otter, and $10 raccoon.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife does not even have population estimates for targeted species trapped or poisoned in Washington state. There are no limits on the number of traps set or poisons used to kill most species and no limit on the number of animals that can be killed. Recreational and commercial trapping and poisoning amounts to random killing of wildlife for private personal profit.

Common traps used in Washington

Steel-jawed leghold traps Steel jaws slam shut on a foot, leg or other body part when an animal steps on or otherwise triggers the trap. Current trapping regulations place few restrictions on the use of steel-jawed leghold traps.

Conibear traps A body-gripping trap designed to snap shut in a scissor-like fashion and break the animal’s spine.

Snares A wire noose that tightens around the neck, foot, or other body part as a trapped animal struggles.

Initiative 713 would ban traps and poisons in Washington state

Initiative 713 would ban the use of all body-gripping traps, including steel-jawed and padded leghold traps, leg and neck snares, and Conibear traps with exceptions. It would also ban two lethal poisons: Compound 1080 and sodium cyanide.

The Director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife could grant special circumstance exceptions in order to protect public health and safety, property, threatened and endangered species and for legitimate wildlife research.

Exceptions to the ban will ONLY be made after non-lethal methods have been exhausted. In all cases, these exceptions notwithstanding, the sale of any pelt taken with a body-gripping trap will be illegal.

How you can help

Volunteers are needed to help gather the 235,000 signatures needed (during the months of February through June) to qualify for the ballot.

Hundreds of people will be gathering signatures across the state, from Vancouver to Bellingham, Seattle to Spokane. More than one-hundred dedicated volunteers have made an individual commitment to gather 1,000 signatures each, while other volunteers have agreed to coordinate signature gathering at high-traffic locations in their region or provide office support to the initiative staff. Volunteers have also signed on to gather signatures from their friends, family members and coworkers. Every signature counts!

The initiative process has been tremendously successful in passing laws that afford wild and domestic animals greater protection. In the past decade, four US States (Colorado, California, Arizona and Massachusetts) have successfully banned leghold traps through the initiative process. Not surprisingly, recent polls indicate that Washington state voters would overwhelmingly support a ban on leghold traps.

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