OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) -- Nearly a year after Washington state voters banned most forms of trapping, landowners, wildlife officials and trappers say they're dealing with the consequences: Dam-building beavers flood timber land. Coyotes snatch more lambs. River otters treat salmon hatcheries as all-you-can-eat buffets.
Initiative 713 bans the use of body-gripping traps to capture any mammal for recreation or commerce in fur. It also outlaws two specific poisons. Initiative sponsors, primarily the Humane Society of the United States, argued that such methods are cruel and inhumane.
The measure was approved in November with nearly 55 percent of the vote.
The result is that fewer beavers are being caught -- leaving more of them chopping down trees and building dams. For landowners, especially owners of timber, that means more young trees in reforested areas dying in beavers' jaws and more mature timber drowning in beaver ponds.
"As you fly over the countryside you see a lot more ponds where ponds didn't used to be," said Bill Pickell, who heads the Washington Contract Loggers Association.
Before the initiative, the timber industry enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with fur trappers, who controlled the beavers at little or no charge, making their money from pelts.
After the initiative, the cost of beaver removal skyrocketed to more than $100 an animal, with trappers unable to sell fur and forced to use cumbersome cage traps or seek special permits to use traditional body-gripping traps.
Initiative sponsors say that's OK.
"People are now supposed to be focusing on non-lethal ways to deal with their wildlife problems," said Lisa Wathne of the Humane Society of the United States.
Four other states have banned such traps by initiative, according to the Humane Society: Arizona in 1994, Colorado and Massachusetts in 1996 and California in 1998.
Florida bans the traps by statute and New Jersey bans the manufacture, use, and possession of leg holds.
Before Initiative 713, sheep rancher Fred Blauert used foot-hold traps to catch the coyotes that burrowed under the fence that protects his 300-ewe flock near Washtucna. Since the measure's passage, Blauert said his losses to predators have jumped from 5 percent to 15 percent, a tough hit in an industry already hurt by cheap imports of wool and meat from Australia.
Body-gripping traps also were standard in Washington for the wildlife managers who tend the public's lands and private operators who make their living removing nuisance wildlife. Those operators are suffering under the initiative's restrictions, said Lt. Steve Dauma, who oversees enforcement of the measure for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
"It was much broader than just affecting commerce and recreation in fur," Dauma said.
The initiative's sponsors advocate non-lethal methods such as guard animals and keeping ewes while they lamb to protect newborns from predators.
"At some point, people need to step back and say: 'What we're doing is not only inhumane, it doesn't work,"' Wathne said.
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