Wildlife agencies defend leg traps

Bill would prohibit the devices, described by some as inhumane

Howard County

July 21, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

State and county agencies charged with managing wildlife strongly oppose a bill to ban leghold animal traps in Howard County.

Gary J. Arthur, county recreation and parks director, said his agency owns several of the traps and has used them to capture and track wild foxes and to remove beavers whose dams cause floods on adjacent properties.

"We think it's an effective wildlife-management tool," Arthur said. "We'd like to continue using them. The only alternative are kill traps."

Paul Peditto, director of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife and Heritage Service, said the traps, including newer padded varieties, "are generally ... safe and efficient" for controlling wildlife.

But Lesley Fox, acting executive director of Fur-Bearer Defenders, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based animal rights group, said all leghold traps are cruel and inhumane.

When first trapped, animals try to run, she said, often dislocating shoulders or legs. In struggling to free themselves they often break teeth and bones, leaving them in pain and vulnerable to weather and predators.

"There's no circumstance where they need to use legholds," she said, adding that farmers have been known to discourage foxes with simple repellents such as human urine or dirty laundry.

Arthur, like Maryland Department of Natural Resources officials and the trappers and farmers who came to testify at a council public hearing Monday night, said they were not consulted by county police, who supervised an 18-month overhaul of the county's animal control laws scheduled for a council vote Friday.

In a letter to the council Monday, Peditto said his agency heard about the proposed ban only on the day of the hearing.

Cody Kittleman, a West Friendship farmer whose brother, County Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, represents the rural western county, said he first heard about the proposed ban Monday when his father, state Sen. Robert H. Kittleman, got wind of it.

"This is one of the most valuable tools we have," Cody Kittleman testified.

He told the council that the traps do not hurt animals caught in them, and demonstrated after the hearing by springing a small fox trap on his two middle fingers without wincing. If the trap hurts the animal, he said, it is more likely to fight it and escape. The smooth metal jaws merely hold the animal's foot, he said.

"You just let them go and they're fine," Kittleman said.

Robert Dunker, a Catonsville resident who said he traps wild animals part time, said the trap is set and barely buried on a path or where animals often walk. A small hole is dug nearby and baited with food or an attractive smell.

"You've got to get that animal to put his foot on one square inch on a 100-acre farm," said Dunker, who added that landowners hire him to remove nuisance wild animals - something county animal control will not do.

Peditto, like those testifying at the hearing, argued that the traps are necessary for controlling burgeoning populations of beaver, fox and coyote, which are starting to appear in Howard County, causing millions of dollars in damage to crops, shrubs and other animals.

"The professional wildlife conservation community universally endorses traps and trapping as critical and essential wildlife-management tools," he wrote. The leghold traps "are the only efficient, practical and humane live capture/control tool currently available for many furbearer species."

Peditto said attempts to ban or restrict the traps statewide in the General Assembly have failed in committee in each of the past three years. He also said a county ban "would be unenforceable" because it would usurp state law.

But county police Chief Wayne Livesay, who oversees the county's animal shelter, and Ann Selnick, president of Animal Advocates of Howard County, support the ban.

Selnick said that most of the trappers who testified don't live in Howard County.

"I could fill this room" with 1,000 Howard residents, she said, adding, "We strongly urge your support" to ban the "cruel and indiscriminate" leghold traps. She said the traps have been banned in "eight states and 89 foreign countries" and said a large majority of the public favors banning them.

Livesay said he favors the ban, too.

"We do not feel comfortable knowing there are leghold traps being placed around the county," he said. "I think it [a ban] does a lot for the good of animals in Howard County."

Despite the opposition, council Chairman Guy Guzzone said he is committed to supporting the ban.

"There's an aspect to this that's inhumane, particularly because you have individuals who are irresponsible and leave them [traps] unattended," Guzzone said.

Guzzone said there is no way to enforce regulations because no one knows where traps have been placed except trappers.

"It's my bill. I stand by the whole thing," Guzzone said.

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