BOISE – Idaho has a measure on the November ballot to enshrine a right to hunt, fish and trap in the state constitution – a proposal that likely would generate virtually no opposition in the outdoorsy state but for the inclusion of trapping.
Thirteen other states have passed right-to-hunt-and-fish amendments, all but one of them in the past 15 years. Three others besides Idaho – Kentucky, Nebraska and Wyoming – are considering them in November. But only five states have specifically protected the right to trap.
Greg Moore, head of Idahoans Against Trapping, called trapping “an inherently unethical way to kill animals” and a hazard to pets. “Trapping is just no longer necessary – we don’t need the fur,” he said. “It’s so women in places like Sun Valley who think they’re chic can have fur trim on their ski parkas. That’s not worth all the suffering that goes into it.”
His group has raised $22,000 for a campaign against the constitutional amendment, HJR2aa, and hopes to start running a TV commercial against it in the Boise area next week. The money came from dozens of Idaho residents, campaign finance reports show, along with $5,000 from a family foundation and $1,000 from the Idaho chapter of the Sierra Club.
Patrick Carney, president of the Idaho Trappers Association, said opponents are misinformed. “I do not believe that it’s inhumane,” he said. “We’ve come a long ways over the last probably 40 years with the kinds of traps.”
His group is preparing radio ads and billboards in favor of the amendment. He said of the measure’s opponents, “They’re against everything. They want us to eat bean sprouts and tofu, I guess.”
Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, author of the Idaho amendment, said he wants to preserve the state’s heritage of hunting, fishing and trapping for future generations. “It needs to be preserved in our constitution so that it can’t be challenged every year by some other faction,” Heider said.
Idaho has regulated trapping for more than 100 years; the 1938 voter initiative that established the current Fish and Game Department declared that the state’s wildlife should be managed and preserved to ensure “continued supplies of such wildlife for hunting, fishing and trapping.”
Trapping is a much smaller portion of Idaho’s wildlife scene than hunting and fishing; the state licensed 1,752 trappers last year but sold more than half a million licenses for hunting or fishing.
State Fish and Game records show more than 800 nontargeted animals got caught in traps over the last two years, including 102 rabbits, 62 squirrels, 49 skunks, 44 mountain lions, 37 porcupines, 35 deer, 30 dogs, 24 house cats and two eagles. Not all of those were killed or injured; where possible, they were released unharmed.
“I’ve turned a lot of birds loose,” Carney said. “There’s nothing wrong with them – they fly off. I’ve turned lots of pheasants loose. … I’ve turned several deer loose.”
But some are killed. “We don’t like to see nontargeted animals trapped, and we firmly believe that the vast majority of our trappers do everything they can to prevent that from happening,” said Mike Keckler, Idaho Fish and Game spokesman. “And when it does, they take action to release the animal.”
Craig White, a wildlife biologist with Idaho Fish and Game, noted that interest in trapping in Idaho fluctuates with the economy and with bobcat pelt prices, which currently are high, averaging $300 to $500 per pelt. Idaho had about 1,000 licensed trappers until two years ago, when the number started climbing to the current 1,700-plus. The rise also coincided with the debut of Idaho’s wolf hunting and trapping seasons, but the department has determined that only about 220 people have tried trapping wolves, and many of those already were trappers.
Fish and Game has a mandatory training class for wolf trappers and a voluntary one for other trappers. “Trapping has a rich heritage in Idaho and in the West in general,” White said.
The amendment has aroused some concern among constitutional scholars for recognizing something other than a traditional “fundamental right” like freedom of speech or religion. David Adler, constitutional expert and head of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University, likened it to amending the Constitution to add a right to smoke or a right to ride a bicycle.
“We wouldn’t clutter up the Constitution with those kinds of interests,” he said.
Adler said, “Hunting and fishing rights would not ever be threatened in Idaho – it’s in Idahoans’ DNA. … The practice of trapping might be a different issue. But that’s why it’s all the more important to deal with that at a legislative level, because legislators can take account of society’s views and values on that kind of an activity.”
Creating a new constitutional right could invite lawsuits over whether various hunting, fishing or trapping regulations go too far, Adler warned. Lawmakers cited that concern, among others, in rejecting the first five versions of Heider’s amendment this year before finally backing the sixth.
Idaho’s Fish and Game Commission has now unanimously endorsed the amendment.
Carney said most people don’t know much about trapping and just respond to the issue based on emotion.
“Most people don’t even know trapping’s going on anymore,” he said. “There was a lady that got her dog caught over here in the foothills of Boise last year; she said she had been walking her dog there for 20 years and didn’t even know people were trapping in there. Well, that’s a pretty good record.” The dog, he said, was fine.
He’s even led classes to demonstrate to people how to free their dogs unharmed from common leg-hold traps. “We try very hard,” Carney said. “We don’t want to kill anything that we’re not going to use.”