HSUS wants Wildlife Services to adhere 2 Washington trap ban

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Agency uses banned traps, initiative backers say.

Thursday, September 6, 2001

By SCOTT SUNDE, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

Washington voters banned the most common forms of trapping last fall, but a federal agency continues to use the traps.

Wildlife Services has used traps banned by Initiative 713, as well as sodium cyanide, a poison the measure also outlawed, a spokeswoman confirmed. The agency, which helps farmers and ranchers control wildlife depredation, believes it is on firm legal footing.

Backers of the initiative began a letter-writing campaign this week to persuade the U.S. Agriculture Department to change how Wildlife Services operates in the state. And if that doesn't work, animal-welfare groups may haul the Agriculture Department into court, said Lisa Wathne, director of the Pacific Northwest office of the Humane Society.

"Basically, what's happening is that they and the livestock people are subverting 713," she said. "It's an outrage."

Teresa Howes, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department, said Wildlife Services has used the traps or poison only after non-lethal means failed and only when the farmer or rancher had documented losses and asked for federal help. A typical case would be trapping and killing coyotes that have been preying on a rancher's calves.

This week, the Humane Society wrote Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman protesting the use of illegal traps and poison in the state.

The society also has urged its supporters to write letters to Washington's two senators asking them to pressure the Agriculture Department to stop using the traps. It also wants letters written to state Attorney General Christine Gregoire asking her to withdraw an advisory that says the federal agency doesn't have to follow Washington's ban.

The moves have prompted the Agriculture Department to ask for a legal opinion from its general counsel about the Washington law, Howes said. Meanwhile, Wildlife Services will continue to use the traps and poison in the state.

The initiative voters approved last November bans leg-hold traps, snares and Conibears, which are often used underwater to break a beaver's back. Some lethal traps can be used but only after other methods have failed and only with the permission of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department.

The department has issued 214 of those permits. But Wildlife Services has used the traps without permits.

Last December, the state told Wildlife Services that the Attorney General's Office had concluded that the federal agency didn't have to follow I-713 and its employees wouldn't be cited for violating it.

Gregoire's office said its advisory was not an official opinion.

A couple of weeks later, however, Wathne received a letter from a top Wildlife Services official, who assured her that the agency would follow state law.

Howes said she didn't know about that letter and couldn't explain why the agency once said it would follow the law.

Wildlife Services has followed trapping bans in other states. In recent years, groups like the Humane Society have successfully pushed through bans in such states as California, Colorado and Arizona.

Howes said each state law is different. And she noted that farm losses due to wildlife have typically increased after such bans.
 

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