Missouri to trap otters: New icon for antifur drive with European ban pending

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1996:

BRUSSELS––If Europe banned the
import of seal pelts because of the cuteness of
harp seals, just wait until they meet river
otters––not only cute, but playfully active
and insatiably gregarious.
The Missouri Department of
Conservation quietly approved the resumption
of trapping river otters in May 1995, but
word didn’t reach the public until Valentine’s
Day, when the world learned from an article
by Mead Gruver in the St. Louis River Front
Times that the Missouri Trappers aim to give
Miss Missouri an otter coat this year.
Thus alerted, the Fur Bearer
Defenders and the Sea Wolf Alliance warmed
up their fax machines. Within hours bigger
organizations including the Animal Legal
Defense Fund, Fund for Animals, and the
Humane Society of the U.S. were on the case.

Trapping lobbyists, including Missouri DoC
wildlife research biologist David Hamilton
probably developed migraine headaches.
British environment minister John
Gummer announced March 4 that the
European Union will proceed with a 15-
nation ban on the import of trapped furs from
13 species commonly caught in leghold traps,
if international standards for humane fur trapping––considered
a contradiction in terms by
most humane authorities––are not adopted by
December 31, 1996.
According to the Reuter news service,
“European Union Environment
Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard gave no clear
answer to repeated questions at a news conference
on whether the proposed ban would
take effect from next year if no framework
deal was reached. However, asked after the
conference about Gummer’s remarks she told
Reuters: ‘What John said is correct.’”
Britain was instrumental in helping
Canada, Russia, and the U.S. secure a second
extension of the ban, which was to take
effect first on January 1, 1995. Britain
joined the three major exporters of trapped
fur at the urging of Canadian indigenous trappers,
whose exaggerations of their economic
dependence on trapping backfired when they
sought a special exemption from the ban.
While the actual number of native trappers in
Canada is from 5,000 to 9,000, according to
research by the Fur Bearer Defenders and
ANIMAL PEOPLE, pro-trapping fronts
and the Canadian government claim there are
as many as 40,000––which would be half of
all the trappers in Canada.
Said Gummer, “People felt that to
give an exclusion to indigenous people that
would add up to 50% of the imports concerned
would not be satisfactory. There was
general agreement that we could not make
such a distinction, particularly as Greenland
and Finland had found ways to meet the
needs of their indigenous people without use
of leghold traps.”
Added Gummer, “I am certainly
not one of those who take an antifur position.
I take an anti-cruelty position.”
In any event, said Bob Stevenson,
executive director of the Aboriginal Trappers
Federation of Canada, ATFC members
resent the fur industry’s use of “the token
Indian” in defense of leghold traps, introduced
by European settlers, and would be
happy to switch to different trapping methods
if Canada subsidized the transition.
The Cree Nation of Quebec last
year called for a ban on leghold trapping, to
avoid the EU ban.
The Netherlands has meanwhile
unilaterally enforced the fur import ban from
January 1. On March 15, as volunteer
ALDF attorney Amy Levin pleaded the case
for otters before the Missouri Fish and
Wildlife Commission, the Metis Nation of
the Northwest Territories, Canada, argued
before a Dutch court in Den Hague that the
Dutch enforcement is illegal. Metis Nation
president Gary Bohner claimed the Dutch
approved the ban in the belief that it would
protect endangered species, and asserted that
no legally trapped furbearers are endangered.
His contention overlooks the
Canadian failure to enact endangered species
protection, and the failure of the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service to act on petitions seeking
the addition of the lynx and wolverine to
the U.S. Endangered Species List. Biological
evidence indicates both are eligible. In addition,
traps are inherently unselective about
which animals they catch: any animal who
takes the bait is game––and usually maimed
for life, if not killed in prolonged agony.
The verdict was due March 28.
Otters, as diving animals, die hard
even in so-called drowning sets. Otters are
too big to be crushed in the Conibear traps
usually set for muskrat, which work much
like a spring-loaded mousetrap, and like
beavers, foxes, raccoons, and coyotes,
often “wring off” if caught in a leghold trap,
leaving a crushed limb behind.
That’s what the EU wants to stop.
It’s an embarrassing situation for Gummer,
whose Conservative government killed a bill
just last fall that would have stopped the
sadistic abuse of British otters and mink by
lampers and lurchers, as devotees of the
British variant of coonhunting are known.
But attacking leghold trapping of otters in the
U.S. and Canada would go a far piece toward
improving the Gummer image, without
domestic political risk.
“Depending on whom you ask,”
Gruver wrote, “20% to 90% of Missouri
trappers use leghold traps.” Their otter-trapping
technique: “Put the traps where they
like to slide.”
Otters love to slide down slick clay
riverbanks just like children at the playground:
first mama otter, then the babies.
Trappers & rapists
Once ranging throughout North
America, otters were so heavily trapped,
along with beaver, as to vanish entirely from
the central part of their habitat by the mid19th
century. Wherever beaver were, otters
were, sharing their ponds, and wherever
beaver were extirpated, otters vanished too,
until the southern population was completely
separated from the northern.
Likewise, otter recovery followed
the restoration of beaver. Noting the return
of otters to Vermont after beavers were reintroduced
from New York in 1921, advocates
for the creation of the Missouri DoC mentioned
otter recovery as one of the projects it
could supervise back in 1936––and from the
time it came into being, in 1937, recovering
otters was on the agency’s “do” list. There
was just one problem: no otters were to be
had until 1982, when Louisiana trappers
agreed to sell some. Between then and
February 1992, 825 otters were released in
Missouri. The DoC estimates there are now
3,000, still not many for the habitat.
Now comes the argument that since
trappers helped bring otters back, they
should be allowed to kill them again. It’s like
arguing that a rapist who makes restitution
should be allowed to rape his victim again,
since, being paid, she’s become a prostitute.
But it’s an argument that will be heard
increasingly loudly from other states with
otter restoration programs, also including
Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio, because at
$45-$95 a pelt, otters are among the few
species whose remains fetch at auction something
like the prices they fetched a decade
ago. Even the Illinois DoC, without an otter
restoration program, has biologists combing
the riverbanks leading from states from
which otters might wander, hoping to find
some, whose presence may revive trapping
permit sales.
In Missouri, wildlife programs are
funded from general tax revenues, not just
the sale of hunting, fishing, and trapping
permits, a unique arrangement which supposedly
gives “non-consumptive users” a
greater say in what happens to animals. In
practice, this hasn’t happened. Otters may
become a high-profile test of the theory.
For now, Missouri is the 28th state
to permit otter trapping. Twenty states still
protect otters.
Interestingly enough, Missouri
trappers didn’t kill many otters back in the
1980s, when beaver and coyote pelts often
fetched more than otter pelts do now. They
killed just 20 “by accident” in 1993, just
before Chinese bidders drove the otter pelt
price at auction up from circa $30 to the present
level. In 1994, they killed 144.
Said Hamilton to Gruver, “There
is a need to use the otters that are being captured.
It would be irresponsible if we didn’t
allow the use of animals caught in these
That might rationalize the introduction
of, say, a dispensation permit, like the
special tag issued in some states to drivers
who hit a deer and want to keep the carcass.
But the Missouri DoC approved a season
with no bag limit, running from November
20, 1996 to January 20, 1997.
[You may tell the Missouri DoC
what you think of otter-killing at POB 180,
Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180.] Beaver-bashing
Apparently believing either that the
EU fur import ban can be stalled indefinitely
or that “humane” trapping rules can be gerrymandered
so as to allow whatever is current
practice, other states are also rushing to
weaken trapping regulations. New York
Assembly majority leader Michael Bragman
is reportedly determined to pass A-8034/S3182,
dubbed the “Beaver Butchery Bill” by
Friends of Beaversprite.
“This bill,” summarizes FoB,
“introduced last year to legalize snares,
allow an open season on beaver in vast parts
of the state, and allow up to three days
between trap checks, was stalled last year
due to opposition from our leading environmental
and animal organizations.”
[Letters of protest may be sen t to
Senator Carl Marcellino, Legislative Office
Bldg., Albany, NY 12247, and Assembly
man Sheldon Silver, same address except
that the zip is 12248.] The New York Department of
Environmental Conservation claims killing
more beavers is essential to protect roads
from flooding. Arkansas claimed the same
rationale for imposing a bounty of $5.00
apiece on beavers last summer. Arkansas
trappers killed 14,550 beavers this past winter,
costing the state treasury almost $75,000.
“It’s reducing the population, but
it’s not particularly reducing the problem,”
said Rocky Lynch, bounty coordinator for
the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
A more general move to legalize
snaring, by the Ohio Department of Wildlife,
met surprising opposition in mid-February
when representatives of northeastern Ohio
hunting clubs disapproved of it by a 10/1
margin––chiefly because snares might injure
coonhunting dogs.
The pushes to expand snaring in
New York and Ohio may reflect the positions
of New York furbearer management chief
Gordon Batchellor and National Trappers
Association president Tom Krause, an Ohio
native, on the Working Group on Trilateral
Standards, which also includes Hamilton.
The Working Group, excluding animal protection
representatives, was formed by the
U.S., Canada, and the European Union after
the International Standards Organization was
unable to produce a “humane” trap standard.
The California Department of Fish
and Game has proposed adding red foxes,
once listed as a threatened species, to that
state’s list of legally trapped furbearers, calling
them “an undesirable wildlife species,
agricultural pest, and threat to some wildlife
species” because they are of introduced origin.
Ancestors of today’s red foxes reputedly
escaped from fur farms 60 to 70 years ago.
“Allowing the trapping of the red
fox poses a serious risk to the threatened
Sierra Nevada red fox, a species protected by
state law,” says Fur Bearers representative
Camilla Fox. “Biological data indicates that
territorial ranges for both foxes do overlap.”
[Letters may be addressed to the
CFGC at 1416 Ninth St., Room 1320, Box
944209, Sacramento, CA 94233-2090.]

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