New Jersey Threatens to Bring Back Leghold Traps

New Jersey has been free of steel-jaw leghold traps since 1985—one year after the state legislature banned the possession, use, manufacture, sale, importation, or transport of all leghold traps. AWI and other animal advocates had worked for years to educate residents on the dangers and suffering associated with these traps, including that the traps can break animals’ bones and that some animals held in the vise-like grip chew off the trapped limbs to escape on three legs.

Unfortunately, 30 years later and at the request of the New Jersey Fur Harvesters, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) is proposing to legalize three types of traps for use in the state, primarily to trap raccoons and opossums: the Egg Trap, Duff Trap, and Lil’ Grizz Get’rz. All three arguably work similarly to leghold traps; in fact, the general design is sometimes described as an “enclosed leghold trap” with a “steel jaw.” All three hide the trap inside an enclosure. The raccoons and opossums reach into them and are caught when they activate the triggers. The victims are held by their front feet (which are hyper-sensitive in raccoons). The powerful clamping force is strong enough to inflict trauma and restrict blood flow. In field studies, the Egg Trap had an unacceptable injury score, as several raccoons caught in the traps had swelling, fractures, subluxations, and amputated limbs (Hubert et al., 1996).

A so-called best management practices (BMP) trap-testing program, overseen by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, exists to assess trap performance in meeting trap standards. However, despite the injuries the traps inflict, the program has focused on legitimizing leghold traps (as well as other controversial trapping devices, such as neck snares and kill traps) and ensuring that the United States can continue to trade freely in wild-caught furs with other countries. The DFW claims that all three of these traps meet the weak BMP criteria for taking raccoons. For opossums, only the Egg Trap has been BMP approved; the Duff Trap failed to meet BMP standards for this animal, and the Lil’ Grizz Get’rz has never been tested on opossums.

Despite concerns associated with the efficacy of the BMP program, and the fact that neither the Duff Trap nor the Lil’ Grizz Get’rz have even been certified under this program for use on opossums, opossums are included as targets for these two traps in the DFW proposal.

The New Jersey legislature was clearly concerned about animal welfare when it enacted this ban in 1984—with no exceptions made for variations of the design such as soft-catch traps. It is absurd to suggest that these traps are needed for raccoon and opossum—two species that can be easily caught in cage and box traps and with minimal injury.

The New Jersey legislature is to be commended for taking action against trapping cruelty more than 30 years ago; shame on the state DFW for plotting to circumvent this law and permit needless suffering.