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Lawmakers Want Fish and Game Council to Ban Foothold Traps — Again

Constitutional tool could be key to outlawing ‘barbaric’ practice


The Legislature is trying to ban the use of foothold animal traps once again — more than 30 years after lawmakers thought they had done so.

The latest twist in the three-decade-old fight is a resolution to declare a new regulation by the state Division of Fish & Game Council allowing certain foothold traps inconsistent with the legislative intent of a 1984 law that prohibited steel jaw leg-hold traps.

Animal-rights activists are pushing the measure (ACR-25) in the hope of preventing the traps from being used when the trapping season begins on November 15. The Legislature can block the executive branch from adopting new rules that are inconsistent with state laws under a rarely used constitutional tool.

In approving the new regulation, the Fish & Game Council argued the latest version of the trap does not fit the criteria that led to the ban on steel-jaw leg-hold traps, and is necessary to control rabies in certain wildlife populations.

While the resolution won approval from the Assembly Regulatory Oversight Committee, it faces uncertain prospects. An identical measure in the Senate stalled after the Office of Legislative Services issued an opinion that concluded the traps are different from the steel-jaw traps and not covered by the law.

But Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), the chairman of the committee, defended the measure, calling it cruel and inhumane.

“This is more about politics than it is about New Jersey’s fishing and gaming policies,’’ he said, accusing Gov. Chris Christie of pandering to right-wing conservatives during his presidential bid. “This practice is barbaric, plain and simple.’’

Angi Metler, executive director of the Animal Protection League of New Jersey, agreed, urging the resolution be adopted, saying they are trying to dismantle the law through regulation. “It is the right thing to do, legally, morally, and humanely,’’ she said.

Metler and others argued the OLS opinion is at variance with the views of former Attorney General Irwin Kimmelman, who argued the original law prohibited similar traps from being used by hunters.

An identical resolution was introduced last fall, but died in the Senate in the lame-duck session.

If both houses pass the resolution declaring the rule inconsistent with legislative intent, the agency has 30 days to withdraw or amend the regulation. Absent any action, the Legislature can pass another resolution rescinding the rule if it chooses.

The tool is rarely used, but was almost employed this past summer. Both houses had passed a resolution declaring a new regulation dealing with water quality inconsistent with legislative intent. The state Department of Environmental Protection eventually made changes to the regulation, but not enough to satisfy critics; the resolution, however, fell short of winning final approval in the Senate.

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