Legal pitfalls & political traps

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1996:

ST. LOUIS––Legal otter trapping
for pelts commenced in Missouri
for the first time since 1937 on
November 20, 11 days after Judge
Robert H. Dierker of the 22nd Circuit
Court rejected the argument of state residents
Cecily Westerman, Ed Leonard,
Stan Slaughter, and the Animal Legal
Defense Fund that the otter season was
improperly authorized.
Dierker agreed that as
Missouri taxpayers, the three named
plaintiffs had standing to challenge the
regulation that established an otter season.
He also rejected Missouri
Conservation Commission arguments
that trapping is required to control the
otter population and prevent property
damage. “The record seems clear,”
Dierker wrote, “that the Commission
concluded in 1995 that there were
enough otters to accommodate commercial
trapping interests, and other reasons
to have a trapping season were at
best ancillary factors.”

However, Dierker added,
“The Court can find nothing in the law
which requires the Commission to defer
to plaintiffs’ views in the matter of trapping
river otters, or to avoid treating
otters as an ‘annually renewable
resource,’ in the words of one witness.
The plaintiffs’ views that river otters
should not be subject to an open season
at this time is not unreasonable,”
Dierker continued, “nor is the
Commission’s view unreasonable that a
trapping season will not undo the otter
restoration,” undertaken by the
Commission since 1982, “and will be
beneficial to economic interests.”
Dierker concluded that, “If
the plaintiffs, supported by a majority
of Missourians, want to stop otter trapping,
they can and should have resort to
the political process, not to the courts.”
In a footnote, Dierker stated
that if otters had also possessed standing
to sue, he would have held that the prescribed
trapping methods, challenged as
inhumane by the plaintiffs, “reasonably
balance the interest of the trapper in
catching the animal against the plaintiffs’
interest in preventing the infliction
of cruel or unnecessary suffering on
A page later, in another footnote,
Dierker rejected the plaintiffs’
claim that as a member of the U.S. delegation
to the International Standards
Organization’s quadrilateral committee
to draft “humane” trap standards,
Missouri staff biologist David Hamilton
had a conflict of interest in prescribing
otter trapping. Dierker rejected the
claim, he wrote, because the personal
benefits Hamilton received “were disclosed
to and approved by his superiors
in the Department of Conservation, and
do not appear to be the sort of emoluments
which deprive Mr. Hamilton’s
work of reliability.”
Conflict of interest
Separating the cruelty issue
from the conflict of interest, and interpreting
the allegation of conflict of
interest as involving the individual
rather than the individual as representative
of the Missouri Conservation
Commission, Dierker may have missed
the greater significance of the
case––possibly because the plaintiffs’
counsel failed to make clear that the
purpose of the ISO committee is to produce
a trap standard acceptable to the
European Commission. Failure to produce
such a standard by January 1 will
result in the twice-delayed imposition of
a ban on the import into the European
Union of any pelts which may have
been taken from animals caught by
methods deemed inhumane. This in
turn would cut off the major market for
U.S. trappers, would depress trapping
income, and would thereby cut into
MCC trapping license revenue, possibly
putting Hamilton out of a job.
Instituting trapping of river
otters, on the other hand, makes the
argument to the ISO committee and to
the European Commission that the trapping
practices are acceptable.
The quadrilateral committee
includes the U.S., Canada, Russia, and
the European Union. Ainslie Willock of
the Canadian Alliance for Furbearing
Animals and Liz White of the Animal
Alliance of Canada warned on October
28 in an urgent bulletin to other animal
protection groups that the draft standard
proposed by the committee on
September 11, “offers no relief from
suffering, particularly for those animals
caught in leghold and restraining type
devices, and accepts a five-to-10-
minute death by drowning as humane.
The draft agreement will extend the use
of cruel trapping devices such as the
standard steel-jawed leghold trap for
possibly as long as 15 years––or
longer––while testing to develop alternatives
takes place,” a procedure
already underway for more than 30
years in Canada without producing
viable inventions. The term ‘humane
trapping methods’ is used throughout
the agreement,” Willock and White
continued, “without ever defining the
word ‘humane.’ As the agreement currently
reads, ‘humane’ is whatever
device is currently in use.”
Of further concern, Willock
and White identified a passage, Section
3 of Article 12, which prohibits the parties
to the agreement “from applying
measures of any kind, in particular,
measures related to trade in fur and fur
products, to another Party or products
originating from another Party on the
basis of different trapping methods.”
What this means, Willock and
White caution, is that “the EU will be
forced to sign away its right to implement
the Fur Regulation,” i.e. the
import ban, “regardless of whether
Canada, the U.S., and Russia implement
the agreement.”
[For a list of contact address –
es for letters of protest, Americans may
call Kathy Liss of the Animal Welfare
Institute, 202-337-2332, or fax her at
202-338-9478.] Countering the quadrilateral
committee agreement may be the
November 5 verdict of voters in
Colorado and Massachusetts that
leghold traps, bodygripping traps, and
snares are indeed cruel enough to ban.

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