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Molehills: Visible symptoms of trap ban’s flaws

Post by Cheryl Tucker on Feb. 3, 2010 at 7:40 pm |
February 5, 2010 9:19 am

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

Olympia’s moles are breathing a bit easier today. The state has stopped using illegal traps to kill them on grounds around the Capitol and the governor’s mansion.

The use of “body-gripping” traps for any animal were outlawed 10 years ago by voter-approved Initiative 713. But somehow – even after emotional campaigns for and against the measure – the state didn’t get the memo that it should discontinue using the traps.

The Department of General Administration is the agency that’s been using up to 10 spring-loaded traps in late winter to reduce the Capitol grounds’ destructive mole population before the critters start breeding. Ironically, the GA is located right across the street from the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which is charged with enforcing the trap ban.

Although Fish & Wildlife says no private citizens have been fined for using the same kind of illegal traps, some commercial exterminators have been cited – usually after a competitor has complained. The GA will be treated like any other first-time offender – with a warning.

The fact that even an agency of state government sees a need for the traps to effectively control moles shows how absurd it is to use a voter initiative to make wildlife policy.

The ban – which was strongly opposed by ranchers and others who regularly have to deal with problem animal populations – was passed with urban and suburban votes from west of the Cascades. But after city folk realized that the ban posed a threat to their precious lawns, they started agitating for amending the law to allow the traps for moles and gophers.

Some legislators have been open to amending the law, and it’s even gotten some traction in the past. But conservatives have blocked an exemption and demanded the entire trapping ban be overturned – not just the part that upsets lawn owners.

Before the state Capitol erupts in molehills, let’s not make a mountain out of all this. Lawmakers should meet with stakeholders – both east and west of the Cascades – and come up with suggestions for reworking the law in the next session.

Trapping isn’t pretty, but it does have its place in wildlife management: keeping beavers from destroying trees and blocking salmon-bearing streams, keeping populations of muskrats and other creatures under control, and protecting newborn calves and lambs from problem coyotes, for example.

The damage moles cause to state grounds and people’s lawns is just the most visible symptom of the trapping ban’s flaws. The other problems are out of sight to most of us, but still worth addressing.

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