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Lawmakers Move to Block Rule Allowing Foothold Traps Deemed Cruel, Unsafe

Fish & Game Council has approved new traps, but opponents argue they are both inhumane and dangerous to household pets


For the third time this legislative session, lawmakers are moving to invalidate a regulation adopted by the Christie administration that some say weakens environmental programs.

The latest effort involves a rule just adopted by the New Jersey Fish & Game Council to allow the use of a new version of an enclosed foothold trap similar to those that have been banned in the state since 1984.

The rule is viewed by critics to be cruel to animals snared in the new traps, which are similar to the steel-jaw leghold traps prohibited more than three decades ago by a law signed by Gov. Thomas Kean.

The dispute is the latest that pits the Legislature against the administration over a series of regulations that some see as a rollback of the state’s efforts to protect water quality; combat greenhouse-gas emissions contributing to global climate change; and safeguard wildlife.

If lawmakers believe the rule is inconsistent with legislative intent, they can pass a resolution declaring it so, which would give the agency or council 30 days to withdraw or amend the regulation. Absent any action, the Legislature can pass another resolution rescinding all or part of the rule.

So far, the Legislature has yet to rescind any of the new rules, although another resolution dealing with water-quality regulations only needs to be approved by the Assembly to force the Department of Environmental Protection to change or withdraw the rule. The Assembly is expected act before the end of the current legislative session in early January.

In approving the new foothold trap, the Fish and Game Council argued that the new version does not meet the criteria that led to the banning of the steel-jaw leghold traps, is more humane, and is necessary to control rabies in certain wildlife populations.

But the resolution (ACR-250) disputes that assessment. Enclosed foothold traps snare the animal’s limb with a force “that inflicts trauma, restricts blood flow, and results in significant injury to the animal, and therefore are cruel and inhumane,’’ according to the resolution.

Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), the sponsor of an identical resolution in the Senate, challenged the assertion the new traps are more humane. “To me, there is no such thing as less cruelty,’’ he told the Assembly Regulatory Oversight Committee before it released the resolution.

Although the traps are designed to capture raccoon and opossum, they also could snare other animals, such as mink, bobcat and domestic cats, according to opponents of the new rule.

“The Legislature is right to be affronted by the attempt to overturn this law,’’ said Kathleen Schatzmann, New Jersey director of the Humane Society of the United States.

“It has no place in civilized society,’’ agreed Angela Metler of the Animal Protection League of New Jersey, saying the new modified traps should be outlawed.

Several groups, including the Sierra Club of New Jersey, also have filed a lawsuit challenging the new rule. “The administration is trying to bring these traps back,’’ said Jeff Tittel, the state chapter's director, arguing the new traps clearly violate the original law.

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