Trapped in deep muck
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1998:
REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – – Margaret
Kolar, manager of the San Francisco Bay National
Wildlife Refuge at Redwood City, California, told
Marilee Enge of the San Jose Mercury-News i n
November that due to the November 3 passage of
the California Anti-Trapping Initiative, she has
indefinitely postponed a scheduled trapping program
which was supposed to protect endangered species at
the refuge––even though one of the framers of the
initiative question, Humane Society of the U.S. vice
president Wayne Pacelle, said the program wasn’t
“If [leghold trapping] is the only option, it
is appropriate for the protection of endangered
species,” Pacelle said.
Washington D.C. environmental lawyer
Eric Glitzenstein also told Enge that the California
Anti-Trapping Initiative did not supersede federal
law––in this case, the Endangered Species Act mandate
to whatever is necessary to maintain species.
But the passage of the Anti-Trapping
Initiative did give Kolar and the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service an opportunity to wring off from an
unpopular project, pending an official opinion from
their own higher-ups.
Kolar and other USFWS officials, on the
eve of balloting on the Anti-Trapping Initiative,
announced a purported urgent need to use leghold
traps to catch and kill cats, skunks, red foxes, and
raccoons at the Redwood City refuge, to protect
clapper rails and salt marsh harvest mice. Trappers
were to be hired from a list of subcontractors used
by USDA Wildlife Services.
Trappers love Beers
ANIMAL PEOPLE, however, recognized
that tactic: in January 1997, while lobbying
against a pending European Union ban on the import
of trapped furs, then-USFWS chief of wildlife
refuge operations James Beers issued a memo to
wildlife refuge managers which in effect ordered
them to use leghold traps for predator control which
might be depicted as helping endangered species.
Beers’ memo was soon followed by a proposal
to trap coyotes at the Julia Butler Hansen
National Wildlife Refuge near Cathlamet,
Washington, ostensibly to protect fawns of the
endangered Columbia whitetailed deer––although
the major threat to their survival appears to be grazing
competition from cattle, who outnumber them
on the refuge by more than 10-to-one.
ANIMAL PEOPLE exposed Beers’
memo on page one of our April 1997 edition, to little
avail. The Julia Butler Hansen coyote trapping
In November 1997 the proposed European
Union ban on trapped fur imports was dismantled.
By January 1998, the Columbia whitetailed deer,
supposedly in dire peril less than a year before, was
proposed for removal from the federal endangered
But Beers, having become conspicuous,
was in November 1997 transferred against his will to
Massachusetts. Claiming the transfer was instigated
due to pressure from animal rights activists, Beers
appealed it to the Merit System Protection Board’s
Office of Special Counsel. He won a postponement,
but was reportedly fired soon after the National
Trappers’ Association honored him in August 1998
as their “Conservationist of the Year.”
At last word, Beers had appealed the firing,
and was on paid leave pending the Merit
System Protection Board verdict.
About 48 hours after we e-mailed our coverage
of Beers’ January 1997 memo and aftermath to
opponents of the proposed Redwood City trapping,
who intended to take it to Representative Tom
Lantos (D-San Mateo), Lantos asked Interior
Secretary Bruce Babbitt to postpone the scheme for
30 days, until after the election, and Babbitt did.
USFWS revenues come in part from taxes
on hunting and trapping gear––and USDA Wildlife
Services, a major employer of trappers, was until
1986 the Animal Damage Control division of
USFWS. The agencies still work closely together.
According to Trapping On National
Wildlife Refuges, a February 1998 study published
by the Animal Protection Institute, 280 of the 517
U.S. refuges permitted trapping during Beers’ tenure
as chief of wildlife refuge operations.
Surveying the declared intent of 489 specific
refuge trapping programs, 1992-1996, API
found that 76 were for recreation or commerce.
Wildlife Services trappers were apparently involved
in most of the rest, 68 of which were allegedly to
protect facilities; 63 to protect migratory birds from
predators; 63 for research; 40 to protect habitat;
33 for predator control to protect endangered or
threatened wildlife; 31 to protect public health and
safety; 28 for feral animal control; 20 to manage
wildlife populations; and three for other pretexts.
The four most commonly targeted species
were raccoons, beavers, red foxes, and mink––the
four species most used by the commercial fur trade.
The most commonly trapped non-target
species was river otter, caught “accidentally” at
more than 10% of the refuges which permitted trapping.
Coincidentally, otters are among the few
species whose average pelt price still exceeds $50.
In a second immediate response to passage
of the Anti-Trapping Initiative, the California
Department of Fish and Game revoked the trapping
permits of approximately 30 researchers whose work
had used leghold traps.