OUR VIEWS: House should overturn ban on trapping

Opinion - The Olympian

Olympia, WA - 2/27/02 - The state Senate has taken the unprecedented step of overturning a citizen-passed initiative. The House should follow the Senate's lead.

In November 2000, 54.6 percent of Washington voters passed Initiative 713 to outlaw trapping of fur-bearing animals.

It was a simple, seemingly straight-forward ballot proposition asking, "Shall it be a gross misdemeanor to capture an animal with certain body-gripping traps, or to poison an animal with sodium fluoracetate or sodium cyanide?"

It appealed to the animal lover in all of us.

While the ballot proposition was pushed by the well-meaning people of the Humane Society of Washington, the measure was poorly written.

Remember the debate over mole and gopher traps? Would homeowners who tried to rid their lawns of unsightly mole hills be subject to arrest should this initiative pass?

Proponents of the initiative said absolutely not. That was not their intention.

Opponents say yes, mole traps are body-gripping and would be banned by the initiative.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife weighed into the debate, scrutinizing the wording of the initiative and agreed with opponents.

A Fish and Wildlife fact sheet concluded: "Traps commonly used to control populations of moles and other small mammals (gophers, etc.) on private property would be prohibited."

Faced with the prospect of making criminals out of homeowners who used mole traps, Wayne Pacelle with the Humane Society said he wished the initiative specifically exempted mole and gopher traps.

It didn't, and that has proven to be problematic.

There were other problems with the initiative. A photo of a kitten with its paw caught in a trap topped each initiative that was circulated for signatures. In their voter pamphlet statement, supporters said, "For every 'target' animal killed by a trapper, studies indicate there are up to 10 'non-target' victims."

That was misleading. While trappers had taken 20,000 beaver, fox, otter, raccoon, muskrat, mink, coyote and other fur-bearing animals in the two years before passage of the initiative, the Humane Society could only document 60 cases of pets caught in traps in the last 20 years.

This newspaper urged voters to reject I-713. It narrowly passed in Thurston County, but was rejected in Mason, Grays Harbor and Lewis counties. In fact voters in 26 of 39 counties rejected I-713.

The King County vote put the issue over the top, however.

Since passage of I-713, the Fish and Wildlife department has been swamped with complaints about moles tearing up parks and fields, beavers swamping reforested timber lands and coyotes snatching lambs and calves from rural ranchers' fields.

"They've been devastated by coyotes and other predatory animals," Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, said of the state's ranchers.

"Good, law-abiding citizens are out there breaking the law to protect their property," said Sen. Bob Oke, R-Port Orchard, who noted that a homeowner caught defending her lawn with a mole trap could be subject to a $5,000 fine and a year in jail.

Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Hoodsport, noted that cemetery managers are unable to manage moles that are leaving unsightly mounds of dirt and disrupting the final resting place for loved ones.

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, said rodents are hurting dikes in the Skagit Valley.

More than two-thirds of the Senate voted for Senate Bill 5831 which overturns the initiative. The final vote was 38-11.

If two-thirds of the House members agree -- and they should -- this would be the first initiative in state history to be completely repealed by the Legislature.

Lawmakers don't take such an unprecedented step lightly. But they understand the significant problems caused by the trapping initiative and the need to overturn it.



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