To trap or not?

  • BIR

    ATER: Red fox
  When the red fox expanded its range and moved into coastal California in the 1980s, wildlife managers relied on leghold traps to stop the clever predators from killing endangered marsh birds such as the California clapper rail and California least tern. Without the traps, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said, the red fox could wipe out entire populations of ground nesters.


Then in 1998, California voters banned leghold traps. Now, the National Audubon Society and other groups have gone to court to bring them back.


"If we didn't sue to overturn this law, the next year's crop of endangered birds might be the last crop," says Gordon Bennett of the Marin Audubon Society. "It's an urgent situation."


The population of shorebirds, already suffering from coastal development, had plummeted before red fox were trapped. On one marsh, a population of California clapper rails numbered 173 in 1981, then dropped to just nine birds a decade later. Once trapping red fox began, the bird population rose to more than 100, says Marge Kolar, the manager of the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuges.


"We have upset the balance of nature and sometimes we have to take steps that bring us back closer to that balance," Kolar says.


The Animal Protection Institute is fighting the lawsuit against what is known as Proposition 4. The institute's Dena Jones says they've asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to swap padded leghold traps for other, more humane traps. Kolar says that wouldn't work: Other traps kill native gray foxes, he says, and "they're not causing a problem."


*Dustin Solberg


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