From The Bend Bulletin, Bend, OR


Leg hold traps should be banned

By Mike King/ Bulletin guest columnist

Published: February 08. 2008 4:00AM PST


Leaving the truck just off China Hat Road, we walked up a side road along a low ridge. Not more than 10 minutes from the truck, I heard my Airedale vocalize, followed by several coyote howls. I whistled to bring the dog back to me, but she didn’t come in like she usually does when coyotes are around. I kept walking and whistling, and in a few minutes circled back to the area I had heard her call from. She was sitting under a small tree with her right front paw caught in a leg hold trap. As I got up to her, I could see the area was trampled, blood-stained and littered with bird feathers.

I’ve never used a trap, nor had I studied the mechanism. It took me several minutes to get the trap released from my dog’s toes. She was panicked and struggling, trying to get out of the trap and get under me for comfort. I finally got her out of the trap, then the damn thing closed on my glove, causing more struggle. My dog took off, heading back to the truck. I followed, and we drove straight to the vet.

It was early in the morning, before normal office hours, and the vet kindly came in early to see Kona. Three vet visits and $485 (and counting) later, Kona is gimping around on a bandaged paw, and I am left contemplating.

It is perfectly legal to use leg hold traps, among other trap types and snares, in Oregon on public land. The trapper must pass a test, buy a license and report his or her take. I called ODFW to inquire about trapping and was informed that I had better not have in any way damaged the traps or the trap set, because that was against the law. I didn’t; I was in a hurry to get Kona’s bleeding stopped. There is no requirement to mark or otherwise inform other users of the forest about the presence of traps. Indeed, trap sets are baited, either with scent or food, to attract whatever is in the vicinity. Leg hold traps and trap sets are indiscriminate in the extreme. Anything from birds to canines, from game animals to “vermin,” is caught. The trapper’s motivation is either to control populations of predators such as coyotes, or “nuisance” animals, or financial, or both. A coyote pelt brings about $25. Let’s see, that’s about 19 pelts to pay my vet bill. The ODFW also informed me that the trapper has no responsibility to reimburse me for my vet bill. Nor would the department tell me who the trapper is.

Trapping information sources discuss the ethics of this practice. Some trapping Web sites claim that leg hold traps are humane restraint devices. While they certainly are restraint devices, their humanity escapes me. Any creature, be it wild or domestic, caught in such a device must experience a terror hard to understand. Imagine steel bars snapping shut on your hand, held tight by springs so strong I, untrapped, could barely get the bars open. Imagine sitting there in the snow, tugging on the trap trying to pull free, in the zero-degree weather, waiting perhaps 24 hours for the friendly trapper to arrive to finally put you out of your misery, if you haven’t frozen to death yet.

Leg hold traps have been debated in Oregon elections multiple times in the past. My vote has changed. Leg hold traps are just plain cruel. Please get over the image of the hardy trapper snowshoeing miles in the wilderness to check his trap line. This guy drove his car about a quarter-mile up a forest service road, stopped, and walked 30 or 40 yards up a short hill to set his traps. I followed his tracks from the trap set down the hill to the road as we left the area. Trapping may be a reasonable management tool for wildlife populations, but leg hold traps are not reasonable in any context.

Mike King lives in Bend.