No matter how you measure the outcome, the controversial decision Thursday by the Colorado Wildlife Commission to expand the list of furbearers that can be legally hunted isn’t going to please anybody.
When the commission decided on a split vote to add mink and pine marten to the short list of animals that can be trapped, the decision sort of pleased the trappers and simultaneously infuriated conservation and anti-trapping groups who accused the commission of backsliding.
Trapping, or at least the public’s view of trapping, is fraught with emotion, as we all saw in 1996 when citizens barely passed a ballot initiative (by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin) resulting in Amendment 14. Among that constitutional amendment’s complexities were bans on certain types of traps, including leghold and instant-kill body traps, commonly known as Conibears after a well-known model.
The amendment said nothing about what animals may be trapped; that list was devised by the Colorado Division of Wildlife during the dust-up prior to the constitutional knucklebuster.
For the past decade, trappers have had to follow fairly restrictive guidelines, given there always seems to be an exception for anything if one looks hard enough. Looking back 10 years, one of the arguments for protecting certain species was the lack of scientific population data on the animals.
The Colorado Trappers Association, obviously feeling they are sufficiently qualified to supply the needed information if given the chance to trap these animals, petitioned the Wildlife Commission earlier this year to add mink and pine marten to the permitted list of badger, red fox, striped skunk, beaver, muskrat, coyote, bobcat, and raccoon.
One of the arguments the trappers put forth was since there is a shortage of information about mink and pine marten, the trappers would be doing the DOW and wildlife management a great favor by trapping these two animals and in the process learning more about them. That the animals’ pelts might be worth a few cents wasn’t mentioned, but neither was anything said about releasing the animals alive once they were weighed, measured and sex determined.
Immediately the anti-trapping community cried “foul,” and claimed the trappers merely were attempting an end-run around the “spirit” of Amendment 14.
“Of course the intent and the spirit of the amendment were violated,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring, carnivore protection program director for Sinapu, a carnivore protection and restoration group in Boulder. “Everyone who voted for Amendment 14 did so thinking it would ban recreational and commercial trapping.”
She dismissed the notion that trappers are qualified to do bona fide scientific research, accusing them only of wanting to increase opportunities for recreational trapping, an activity that’s disappeared after Amendment 14.
“Fur prices have been going up in the last couple of years and (the trappers) want more recreational opportunities,” Keefover-Ring said.
She also criticized the DOW for failing to release its issue analysis on the topic until two days past when the agency stopped taking public comment.
The wildlife commission Thursday listened to testimony from trappers, anti-trappers, staff biologists and even their own attorney, who assured the commission the amendment strictly limited how the animals were trapped, not which animals were trapped.
“In my opinion, the amendment says you can’t use leghold traps, it doesn’t say you can’t use (live) traps,” said wildlife commissioner Tom Burke of Grand Junction. He was on the losing side when the commission voted 5-3 to add pine marten and mink to the trapping list.
Biologists with the DOW recommended not adding the two new species, but that suggestion was ignored by at least four of the commissioners, none of whom have wildlife management degrees.
It took three votes, and three different motions from the commission, before the regulation was expanded.
“My opinion also is there may have been a loophole in the trapping issue and there’s nothing (the anti-trappers) can do about it,” Burke said. “But I also think Colorado voters thought they were voting to ban trapping (with Amendment 14), so that’s how I based my vote.”
This was the trappers’ second attempt at enlarging their prey base. In 2001 they attempted to add 11 species to the list of animals to be shot or live trapped but public outcry against the proposal convinced the commission to deny that petition.
The time, however, the trappers were more fortunate. They still aren’t satisfied, saying Thursday they’ll come back at a later date to seek more species to trap.
That proposal has Keefover-Ring and other conservationists exploring their legal options.
“We’re going to talk to our attorney, but we may end up litigating this in court,” she said, not totally discounting the possibility of another ballot initiative.
“This (trappers’ proposal) is just the camel’s nose under the tent,” she said. “It’s a calculated approach to give the commission the opportunity to establish more trapping.”
The trappers at Thursday’s meeting curiously pointed out that Amendment 14 passed only because of a large turnout by voters in the urban Front Range and disingenuously said the outcome today might be different.
But it’s money in the bank that if there is an attempt to revise Amendment 14, and any revision likely will spell out a ban to all trapping, there’s no question what side a majority of the 3 million or so voters east of the Continental Divide, along with a sizeable chunk of Western Slope voters, will take.
Burke and fellow commissioners Jeffrey Crawford and Claire O’Neal, all of whom voted against the trapper’s request, recognize this.
“The trappers asked, “What do we have to lose?’ (by pushing for mink and pine marten) and I told them, ‘Only the ability to trap completely,’ ” Burke said.
By DAVE BUCHANAN
The Daily Sentinel