When citizens and legislators care deeply enough, they work together to enact remedial laws that are impervious to the whims of politicians and commercial lobbyists. Yet in New Jersey, our humane laws are only as good as the institutions that uphold them.
Despite the 1984 law that bans steel-jaw leghold-type animal traps, and for the first time in 32 years, fur trappers are using leghold traps against wildlife until March 15, when the season ends.
Enabled by the Christie administration, the Division of Fish and Wildlife, and the Fish and Game Council have flouted legal and legislative objections and authorized enclosed leghold traps in the 2015-16 Game Code.
It is the second time that the agencies, which represent fur-trapping interests, have tried to dismantle the law. In 1985, based on a legal opinion furnished by a fur lobbying group, the council claimed that padded leghold traps were “different” — and legal — traps.
Irwin Kimmelman, the attorney general during Republican Gov. Tom Kean’s administration, informed the council that the ban is “absolute,” “unambiguous” and applies to “technical modifications.” The sole exemption is for “mouse or rat traps designed for use in or under buildings.” Fur interests then sued, and lost.
In Senate and Assembly resolutions SCR11 and ACR25, the Legislature declares the 2015 regulation inconsistent with the plain language and legislative intent of the 1984 law banning steel-jaw leghold-type traps and demands its withdrawal.
SCR11 and ACR25 are supported by 35 national, state and local organizations, including the Animal Welfare Institute, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Humane Society of the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity, the ASPCA, Born Free USA, the New Jersey Sierra Club and the Animal Protection League of New Jersey, among others.
At the close of the last legislative session, the Assembly resolution sponsored by Assemblymen Tim Eustace, Reed Gusciora and Troy Singleton easily passed the Assembly.
In the Senate, however, the equally popular SCR11, sponsored by state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, has been blocked. Given the urgency and ongoing illegal trapping, it is essential that state Sen. Bob Smith, chair of the Environment and Energy Committee, schedule a committee vote. Senate President Stephen Sweeney determines if the resolution will be voted on by the full Senate.
Enclosed leghold traps are not new. “Dog-proof,” modified leghold traps have been around since 1897. Others were available in 1987, 1995 and 2001, respectively, affording years to obtain legal opinions from different administrations. Yet the push for this type of leghold traps by the division, council and a trapping club blossomed during the Christie administration.
In 2009, a political action committee that represents hunters, trappers and the National Animal Interest Alliance — whose agendas include “trapping and fur ranching” — supported candidate Chris Christie.
After the election, the governor-elect made the unprecedented move of appointing the chairman of the PAC to the Department of Environmental Protection Transition Team.
The 2015 State Integrity Investigation ranked New Jersey 19th in accountability and transparency. Investigators found a massive “enforcement gap” — a notable difference between actual laws and how the Christie administration implements them.
The upshot of this brand of Jersey politics is that terrified raccoons, opossums and other animals are now gripped and maimed by traps prohibited by our state’s citizenry and lawmakers over three decades ago. That is an outrage.
In 1983, neurophysiologist Samuel Peacock told the Legislature that the leghold trap is a primitive, uncivilized method of trapping animals. The trap inflicts maximal pain for it not only involves the superficial pain receptors of the skin and muscle but also the deep receptors of tendon and bone.
The trapping season extends through March 15. There is still time to halt the travesty, to spare at least some suffering and fear. With maximal pain comes a moral imperative: SCR11 and ACR25 should be decided by the full Legislature.
With wings, the Senate SCR11 should finally receive its long-overdue vote in the Environment and Energy Committee, and a vote by the full Senate. The Assembly has already shown that it is well up to the task of protecting not only our wildlife, but its own authority and the integrity of our duly enacted laws.