A state legislator is urging residents of New Canaan and nearby towns to contact their delegates to the Connecticut General Assembly as he pushes for a bill that would allow municipalities—rather than the state—to decide whether widely discussed “leg hold” or “foothold” traps may be used in their towns.
State Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151) said that allowing towns to move away from the traps—which use a footplate and curved jaws that snap onto animals that spring them—is mainly “about cruelty to animals who otherwise have no say at all in how they are treated.”
“This is something that is really horrible,” Camillo, who represents a wide swath of Greenwich, told NewCanaanite.com as a long session of the state legislature got underway last week. “Horrible. And it is not just for coyotes. Dogs have gotten caught in these things. First and foremost it’s an animal welfare issue, but also it does establish local control. It gives municipalities an opportunity to enact something if they want to. It should be a no-brainer, but anything and everything put into the system in the way of a bill will get some type of opposition. Going forward it will be a debate, and I think that certainly for animal welfare advocates around the state it is one worth having.”
His comments come as the specter of a coyote hobbled by a leg hold trap, seen dragging the metal contraption through various parts of northern New Canaan over the past month, revives passions among locals seeking to ban the practice.
One year ago, the unintended leg hold-trapping of a red fox on Briscoe Road led to an effort among concerned residents who urged town officials to consider a local ordinance disallowing the devices. Ultimately a subcommittee of the Town Council, after consulting with the town attorney, found that New Canaan could not pass an ordinance that went against a state law.
According to Camillo, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is prepared to oppose his proposed bill, “so that is always a big hurdle, when a major agency is against it.”
“I don’t know why it’s controversial—it shouldn’t be,” Camillo said. “We just need people to reach out to their representatives and senators.”
Asked about the prospective bill, DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain said “it is very early in the legislative session and it is difficult for us to comment on concepts for legislation.”
“To respond in a realistic way, we need to be able to review the specific language of a bill,” Schain said.
He continued: “We would note, however, that state statutes give the Commissioner of DEEP explicit authority to regulate hunting, fishing and trapping on all Connecticut lands. This is consistent with the fact that fish and wildlife belong to all Connecticut state residents, not just those on whose property they may temporarily reside. State authority is also important for ensuring consistent and science-based sustainable management of wildlife populations that do not adhere to political boundaries. In addition, communication to and management of hunters, anglers, and trappers would be very difficult to administer and enforce if municipalities could implement their own regulations, which could vary from place to place.”
In Connecticut, the law that empowers the DEEP to regulate the trapping of fur-bearing animals includes provisions such as that snares are not allowed, no steel trap may be set within 100 feet of a permanent building, traps must be checked every 24 hours and trappers seeking to work on private land must obtain written permission annually from property owners before doing so. Violating the provisions of the law could rise to the level of a misdemeanor criminal offense.
As of July, coyotes in Connecticut may be trapped and hunted Monday to Saturday, year-round and in unlimited numbers.
The DEEP further regulates trapping based on type of trap, target animal, pan tension and bait, and notes that “traps must be securely anchored to the ground.”
That apparently didn’t happen in the case of a coyote first spotted Dec. 12 on Jonathan Road near the New York state line, limping with a leg hold trap attached to its foreleg. The hobbled animal was seen again on Dec. 27 and 30. It isn’t clear who set the botched trap, though the device should have its owner’s name on it, under DEEP regulations.
Those opposed to leg hold trapping say the practice is not only inhumane but risks catching domestic (dogs, cats) and other non-target animals, such as large birds of prey, and are ineffective in controlling coyote populations.
Schain said that Connecticut “has some of the most stringent and protective rules and regulations in the nation regarding the use of foothold traps.”
For example, he said, when used on land, the traps must be padded “to reduce the effect of the trap on the animal, and often times they can only be used in burrows.”
“When used in pursuit of species that live in and around water [such as beavers], the traps must usually be placed underwater,” he said.
“These and other rules and regulations result in more humane treatment of animals and minimize the chances of a domestic animal be entrapped,” Schain said.
Though specific figures on non-target or domestic animal trapping were not immediately available, Schain said such instances are “very rare.”
Annie Hornisch, Connecticut state director of the Humane Society of the United States, citing data from the American Veterinary Medical Association, said the capture of nontarget aimals in leg hold traps can range as high as 67 percent.
She called the question of whether a town could challenge a state agency for control on matters such as leg hold trapping “a gray area.”
Regardless of how Camillo’s proposed bill works out, the Humane Society has developed language that a municipality such as New Canaan could work into a local ordinance that would protect it should someone pose a challenge in court, Hornish said.
Specifically, leg hold trapping could fall into a category of successful challenges to state control for a town “because it is issue of the community’s morals or perception of public safety, and we feel that areas that can be argued in terms of a local ordinance.”
Hornish called leg hold trapping “cruel, clearly” and objected to “the indiscriminate nature of it and the simple fact that it does not work and is not a long-term solution.”
“We promote humane alternatives” such as eliminating wildlife attractions in garbage and open dumpsters, pet food left outside and hazing, she said.
According to Hornish, the DEEP is expected to oppose a bill that would give towns a local decision on leg hold trapping, in part, because “they have a stake financially.”
“They get a lot of income” through permitting and regulations that touch on furbearing animals, she said.
Schain said that although he did not have an exact figure immediately available, that revenues from trapping activities “would be a very small part of our budget.”
“And no one should characterize our motivation as being driven by financial interests,” he said. “That is totally unfounded and unfair. Our approach to wildlife management is driven by science and the extensive knowledge and expertise of the outstanding wildlife experts on our staff.”