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Litigation Update: Trapping Ban Upheld — For Now

Published 03/15/05
Source: Animal Issues, Volume 36 Number 1, Spring 2005

In the latest chapter in a court battle spanning more than six years, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California upheld a 1998 California ballot initiative, Proposition 4, which was adopted to protect wildlife and companion animals from cruel traps and poisons.

In 1998, California voters overwhelmingly passed (by 57.5%) Prop. 4, the state ballot initiative introduced by API and six other animal advocacy organizations in a coalition called ProPAW (Protect Pets and Wildlife). The proposition prohibited the use of body-gripping traps for recreation and commerce and the use of the poisons commonly known as Compound 1080 and sodium cyanide. Body-gripping traps — steel-jawed leghold traps, padded-jaw leghold traps, Conibear traps, and snares — grips an animal’s body or body part, and can cause prolonged suffering. Contrary to the claims of trapping proponents, animals caught in body-gripping traps often sustain severe injuries. When not killed outright by the trap, animals can experience prolonged pain and suffering.

Soon after the measure passed in 1998, the National Audubon Society sued California to allow the use of leghold traps to protect endangered bird species from predation. Shortly thereafter, the National Trappers Association (NTA) and other groups and individuals with similar interests moved to intervene on the side of the National Audubon Society. The trappers challenged the ban on the grounds that it violated the Commerce Clause and Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution and was preempted by the ESA and Animal Damage Control Act.

Although ProPAW argued that Prop 4 did not interfere with federal conservation efforts, the court held that the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Property Clause of the Constitution allowed the U.S. government to trap on its property for any means. ProPAW and the State appealed that decision.

In September 2002, the Court of Appeals found that Prop. 4 cannot be enforced against federal trapping programs pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the National Wildlife Refuge Systems Improvement Act. As a result, the federal government may trap to protect endangered or threatened species, as well as on all National Wildlife Refuges. The Court did find, however, that the federal government could not trap pursuant to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In addition, the State District Court sent back to the lower court the National Trappers Association’s ESA and Animal Damage Control Act claims, which were at issue in the most recent ruling.

In the present case at issue in the recent ruling, the NTA had challenged the legality of Prop. 4 and claimed that the initiative was preempted by federal law. The court properly dismissed the NTA’s claims, stating that the trappers do not have standing to sue and that Prop. 4 is not preempted by federal law. This ruling reaffirms the will of California citizens who overwhelmingly voted to ban cruel traps and poisons.

Unfortunately, the National Trappers Association has appealed this decision, which means that the battle to curb cruel trapping will continue. API will keep our supporters apprised of progress in this case as it occurs.

The Washington, DC law firm of Meyer & Glitzenstein continues to represent the animal advocacy coalition.

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