The N.J. Department of Environmental Protection has been dishonest in its efforts to allow the use of steel leghold traps to catch animals even though they’re banned under state law. Last week a state Appellate Court added another layer of dishonesty in this scheme to thwart the will of N.J. residents as a favor to a small number of animal trappers.
Traps with metal jaws that snap shut on an animal’s leg were banned in 1984, and a prior Republican administration declared the ban unambiguous, absolute and not avoidable by technical modifications. The traps can break the bones of animals, which sometimes chew off their legs to escape or just suffer for days waiting for a trapper to return.
At the request of trappers — who number 1,200 in the state and make an average of $480 a year selling the fur of animals they kill — the DEP decided to push a view that the leghold trap ban is ambiguous and avoidable by technical modifications. The big modification: Instead of springing when an animal steps on it, the trap snaps when an animal sticks a paw in to get at a piece of bait.
To make the trap seem more acceptable, the DEP marketed this reach-in leghold trap as a “foothold trap.” That is simply dishonest. To start with, the leg is the entire limb of the animal, so it’s still a leghold trap. And steel jaws won’t hold an animal unless they’re clamped behind the joint of the foot, so calling it a “foothold” trap is intentionally misleading.
To its credit, the Superior Court Appellate Division calls the modified traps what they are: leghold traps. And it acknowledges the “vigorous opposition received during the public -comment period,” with 899 citizens opposing the DEP proposal and those in support apparently too few to mention.
But then the court makes a preposterous assertion about the meaning of the word “jaws” to find a way to side with the DEP against the people of the state.
In their decision, the judges start by saying there’s no need to worry about the intent of the Legislature’s ban on steel-jaw leghold traps because the “statute’s language is clear and unambiguous.” Then it decides that the modified steel traps “do not operate as ‘jaws,’ having only one part that moves.”
This astonishing definition of “jaws” rejects the origin of the word and would mean that the jaws of every animal — including those of judges — aren’t actually jaws because only the bottom half of the jaw moves to hold, crush or chew something.
This ridiculous attempt to ignore the ban on steel-jaw leghold traps is being made simply for the convenience of a small number of people making money off of the public’s natural resources. Trappers for three decades have continued to kill and skin animals by catching them in live traps, which enclose the whole animal painlessly. Being bigger, they are less convenient to transport.
The return of steel-jaw leghold traps will result again in much other wildlife, some possibly protected, being caught in the traps. And while the DEP boasts that dogs won’t get grabbed by the modified traps, cats will.
A resolution to stop the DEP’s return of leghold traps already has passed the state Assembly. The Senate should pass it and the governor should sign it soon to reassert the public’s desire that New Jersey be free of these cruel traps.