Sinapu and Forest Guardians Sue Colorado Wildlife Commission to Prevent Recreational Trapping

Press Release – Denver, CO. Sinapu and Forest Guardians filed suit in Denver American martenyesterday, challenging a July decision by the Colorado Wildlife Commission to allow trappers to capture mink and marten with box traps and then kill the animals for their fur (click here for pdf). The decision was made at a contentious public hearing on July 13th in Fort Collins, and the Commission voted 5-3 in partial favor of a Colorado Trappers Association request.

“The Commission’s approval of trapping tramples the rights of the majority of Coloradoans who voted to outlaw recreational trapping in Colorado in 1996,” stated Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu.

The lawsuit alleges that:

  • the Wildlife Commission is allowing recreational and commercial trapping in contravention to the States Constitution;
  • the trapping of rare species (mink and pine marten) violates state law because there are no scientific studies on these species populations; and
  • the Wildlife Commission violated its own rules of public process when it allowed the Trappers defective petition to move forward.

The suit brings to head a more than decade-long vociferous public debate about trapping in Colorado (background information below).

In 1996, Coloradoans voted for Amendment 14, an initiative that amended Colorados Constitution to prohibit the use of poisons and leg-hold and body gripping devices on public lands. The law allows exemptions for trapping and poisoning:

On private lands 30 days each year, if the landowner can show that he has experienced ongoing livestock losses, and has obtained a trapping permit:

  • the protection of human safety,
  • falconry, relocations, and medical treatment of an individual, and
  • bona fide scientific research projects.
  • No provision was made to allow for recreational trapping using box traps.

Assistant Attorney General Tim Monahan admitted that “whether or not box traps can be used in the State of Colorado is an open question under Amendment 14.” [Colorado Wildlife Commissions public hearing, March 9, 2006.]

“The intent of the law,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu, “was to ban all recreational trapping, but gave exemptions, particularly to the agricultural community during the lambing and calving season but the Wildlife Commission’s interpretation of Amendment 14 is simply a twisted, illegal perversion.”

Attorneys Susan Morath Horner and Robin Cooley and University of Denver law school students, Lindsay Waskey and Christopher Sutton, filed yesterday’s complaint on behalf of Sinapu and Forest Guardians.

Contacts for this press release:
Wendy Keefover-Ring | Sinapu | 303.447.8655, Ext. 1#
Nicole Rosmarino | Forest Guardians | 505-988-9126, Ext. 156

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Background information

1. In 1992, by a 70% majority, Colorado citizens passed a citizen-generated ballot measure that restricted the time when people can legally hunt black bears in an attempt to protect females with dependent young. People were also indicating they would bring a ballot initiative to end trapping.

2. In 1995, the Division of Wildlifes (DOW) Human Dimensions department conducted a study of Coloradoan’s attitudes concerning trapping and published the findings in a technical paper. It found that 61% of Colorado residents would vote to ban trapping in Colorado. [Division of Wildlife, Colorado Residents Attitudes Toward Trapping in Colorado, Number 24, July 1995.]

3. In 1995, the DOW held a trapping talks for seven months with various stakeholders. The group could not find consensus so the DOW made recommendations to the Wildlife Commission:

a. Bans on trapping of several species, including : gray, kit, and swift foxes; lynx; martens; opossums; ringtails; western-spotted, eastern-spotted, and hog nosed skunks; and long- and short-tailed weasels.
b. That trappers be permitted to trap coyotes, striped skunks, raccoons, badgers, bobcats, muskrats, beavers, and red foxes, because they were perceived as a threat to livestock growers or caused personal property damage.
c. That the Commission address humaneness anxieties by prohibiting steel-jawed traps, (and to replace them with padded traps), and that traps be checked within 24 hours (reducing the trap check period from one week to one day).

4. In July 1995, the Commission adopted the DOW’s recommendations. The DOWs Furbearer Management Plan states, “Trapping strictly for the sale of furs or for recreation has been eliminated. Seasons were left open only on eight species which have historically damaged property, agriculture or human health and safety . . .”

5. University of Denver Professor of Biology Robert Angell, and his wife, Elissa, led efforts to ban trapping in Colorado through a citizen-led ballot initiative. This initiative was and is known as Amendment 14. The intent of Amendment 14 was to ban recreational and commercial trapping, but allow livestock producers to use poisons and snares 30 days of the year if they can show sustained livestock depredation.

6. Amendment 14, now Colorado Constitution, Article 18 12(b), bans the use of poisons and body gripping devices (i.e. neck snares and leg-hold traps) on public lands, but allows for certain specific exemptions, such as for the protection of human safety or for scientific research projects. The regulations that implement the Constitutional Amendment require that the State discourage the use of inhumane methods of wildlife management, but allow for certain exemptions including for “bona fide” scientific research. CRS 33-6-201 et seq. The spirit and intent of the law was to ban all recreational and commercial trapping.

7. In 2001, the Colorado Trappers’ Association (CTA) petitioned the Wildlife Commission requesting permission to trap 10 prohibited species: swift and grey foxes, marten, western and eastern spotted skunks, long- and short-tailed weasels, mink, ringtail, and opossum. The Commission, after hearing the matter over a several month period, refused to implement the proposal because of a lack of scientific data.

8. In their undated and unsigned petition (that was publicly released by the DOW on February 27, 2006) to the Commission, the CTA again requested that they be allowed to box trap wildlife that are now currently off limits: swift and grey foxes; long- and short-tailed weasels; martens; minks; ringtails; western-spotted skunks; and opossums.

9. The trappers’ undated and unsigned petition states, “the small amount of box trapping that will occur will be able to re-start the data stream, by providing tooth, carcass & DNA samples to [the] DOW to head off a listing attempt of these species.”

10. On March 1, Sinapu and approximately a dozen conservation groups submitted written comments to the Commission urging it to deny consideration of CTAs petition for several reasons. On March 9, 2006, the Commission held its first hearing on the petition. Sinapu and others testified against the petition. Nevertheless, the Commission voted to move the trappers’ petition forward as part of its several months’- long public hearing process.

11. On May 4, 2006, at the second hearing regarding CTAs petition, DOW biologists recommended to the Commission that they reject the petition, and maintain the status quo.

12. But on June 30, 2006, the DOW suddenly submitted a 3-page document called “Analysis of Furbearer Seasons,” which recommended trapping seasons on opossum, mink, marten, long- and short-tailed weasels, and swift foxes. The document was submitted two days after the public comment period had ended (June 28, 2006) and after months of discussion with all the parties, (which had started at least by February 27, 2006 when the DOW released the CTA petition).

13. Sinapu and approximately one dozen conservation groups submitted comments to the Commission and the DOW critiquing the DOW’s hastily drafted furbearer analysis document, and supplied a summary of the scientific literature concerning swift foxes. On July 10th, Sinapu submitted a second scientific literature review concerning minks, martens, and gray foxes to the Commission and the DOW.

14. The Commission’s third and final hearing of the trapping issue occurred on July 13, 2006. At that hearing, Sinapu and others again testified against CTAs petition. Sinapu submitted a third literature review, this one concerning martens, their distribution, and effects on their population by trapping.

15. On July 13, 2006, after two initial votes failed, the Commission took up a third resolution limiting trapping to mink and marten. One commissioner reversed his previous stance, and thus the matter moved forward on a 5 to 3 vote. The Commission decided to permit the trappers to trap minks and martens with box traps for recreational and commercial purposes.

16. On August 11, 2006, Sinapu filed a pro se (on his own behalf) complaint in Denver District Court, and then sought help from attorneys.

17. On October 10, 2006, attorneys filed an amended complaint and added Forest Guardians as a co-plaintiff.

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