Hunters, trappers hate democracy

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2000:

PHOENIX, DENVER, BOSTON, PORTLAND (Ore.)––Hunters and trappers rejoiced on February 4, after the Arizona House of Representatives passed a bill which would require citizen initiatives pertaining to wildlife to win a two-thirds majority in order to pass, while on the same day the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council struck down a September 1999 Arizona Game and Fish Commission ban on wildlife killing contests.

Hunters and trappers in 1998 secured passage of both a Utah state constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds majority on wildlife-related initiatives and a Michigan state constitutional amendment denying citizens any direct voice in changing wildlife management policy. So-called “hunters’ bills of rights” have also been adopted as amendments to the Minnesota and Alabama state constitutions.

The Arizona hunting and trapping lobby sees keeping activists from protecting wildlife by initiative as an essential first step toward reversing the 1994 Arizona leghold trap ban, which drew 58% voter support.

Utah, Michigan, Minnesota, and Alabama are all states with high hunting and trapping participation, where wildlife protection ballot initiatives have not been proposed.

Arizona is the home state of the influential Tucson-based Safari Club International, but has also recently favored animal protection initiatives whenever they have been brought to the ballot.

Pro-hunting and trapping politicians still hold the majority in the Arizona legislature, however, as redistricting has not caught up with urban growth. Because rural office holders tend to keep their seats longer, seniority enables the pro-hunting and trapping faction to control key legislative committees too.

But polls show that a ban on wildlife killing contests might still win by initiative even if it did require two-thirds of the vote. Of 13,856 written public comments submitted to the Arizona Game and Fish Department about the anti-killing contest rule, the Arizona Star reported, 12,048 opposed killing contests.


The Colorado Trappers Association demanded on February 2 that the Colorado Supreme Court should rule next on the constitutionality of Amendment 14, an anti-trapping law passed by initiative in November 1997.

The CTA on December 28 won its first test case in three tries at the county court level when Pitkin County Judge Tam Scott acquitted CTA member John Gredig of illegally setting snares to catch coyotes, on grounds that the anti-trapping law usurped the authority of the Colorado Wildlife Commission.

All three county court verdicts are now under appeal to the district court level.

“It is our intent,” said CTA president Al Davidson, “that this action will set a precedent which will discourage use of ballot initiatives for natural resource management.”

In Alaska, a coalition of hunting and trapping organizations with indirect support from the National Rifle Association is raising funds to lobby for a law which would––as in Michigan––totally exempt wildlife management issues from the initiative process.


Hunters and trappers are also working to overturn democracy in Massachusetts, where at urging of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife the state house of representatives in December passed a bill to expand use of body-gripping traps against beaver, contrary to provisions of the 1996 Wildlife Protection Act initiative.

“From the beginning,” charged Gaia Institute founder Mary de la Valette, of Peabody, Massachusetts, “when the DFW received requests for help from property owners experiencing flooding caused by beavers, it answered that it could do nothing until the Wildlife Protection Act was repealed.

Property owners were never told about water flow control devices now successfully installed by citizens’ groups at over 80 sites in the state; were refused permits to breach dams for temporary relief; and were never told that they could use the banned body-gripping traps if, after a brief trial, humane traps were unsuccessful. They were never advised that if it was a health and safety issue, the Wildlife Protection Act could be waived. The evidence is clear: the act was never implemented. Had it been, it would have been evident that the solutions to animal/human conflicts are carefully written into it.”

Despite the Arizona, Colorado, and Massachusetts setbacks, the Humane Society of the U.S. and 3,000 volunteers in January began gathering the 66,768 signatures required to put a proposed ban on steel-jawed leghold traps on the November ballot in Oregon.

A similar measure was defeated in 1980, when anti-trappers raised and spent only $39,000, while pro-trappers threw $367,000 into an aggressive media campaign.

Winning this year’s campaign is expected to cost about $675,000, against the opposition of the Oregon Farm Bureau and hunting and trapping groups. HSUS has so far contributed $50,000. Essentially the same forces were aligned on either side of a 1994 Oregon initiative which banned hunting bears and pumas with hounds, and a failed 1996 attempt to repeal that initiative.

About 45,000 animals were trapped in Oregon during the winter of 1997-1998. More recent figures are not yet available.

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