Washington voters' passage of Initiative 713 on the November 7 ballot does not end the state's annual furbearer trapping seasons, most which got underway this month.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) furbearer section manager Tom Keegan reminded that the initiative bans capturing animals with any body-gripping traps and takes effect on December 7, 30 days after the election. There are no restrictions to cage or box traps or suitcase-type live traps for beaver, Keegan explained, although most trappers choose not to use those types because they are more costly, less efficient and do not work for some species.
The portion of Initiative 713 that bans the use of two specific poisons to kill animals was a moot point, Keegan explained, because one poison is already banned and the other is available only to federal authorities for addressing livestock damage.
Trapping season for the most common species (badger, beaver, bobcat, mink, muskrat, raccoon, red fox, river otter, and weasel) opened November 11 in eastern Washington; in western Washington the season opens November 18, except for beaver and river otter which open December 9. Most seasons run through January or February. Coyote trapping is open year-round in eastern Washington; October 1 to March 15 in western Washington.
Keegan said that Washington's 609 licensed trappers were notified by mail that if the initiative passed, they could obtain a refund for their $36 trapping license if returned to WDFW by November 13.
WDFW collected about $22,000 in trapping licenses in 1999. The economic value of pelts and furs from animals trapped during the 1998-99 season was approximately $148,000. Keegan said WDFW expects those revenues and economic impacts to drop substantially with the new ban on trapping methods.
Captain John Broome, WDFW Wildlife Enforcement explained that one of the significant programs is the training and certification of Nuisance Wildlife Control Operators (NWCOs), who are authorized to capture damage-causing wildlife outside of standard trapping seasons. Citizens who contact WDFW about damage, usually by beavers, are usually referred to licensed trappers during open seasons, or NWCOs who charge fees for their services. Of the 13,158 animals reported trapped during the 1998-99 season, almost 70 percent were beavers and muskrats and 2,650 were a result of damage complaints. Another 2,848 damage-causing animals were removed by NWCOs last year.
Initiative 713 does allow WDFW to grant special permits for use of a few types of body-gripping traps to remove nuisance wildlife, but only if it can be verified that non-lethal methods have not worked or cannot be used. That requirement, Broome said, likely will delay agency response to damage complaints, and the cost of non-lethal alternatives, like electric fencing or guard dogs, will be borne by property owners.
Based on the experience of other states that have similar trapping method bans, Keegan expects damage complaints about furbearers to increase and possibly result in more animals being killed to control damage. For example, trapping restrictions in Massachusetts were linked to an 89 percent increase in annual beaver damage complaints within three years, including flooded wells, septic systems, and roads; and tree damage.
To address the expected increase in workload, Broome said WDFW administrators are now considering a request to the legislature for additional funds.
For additional information see the department's Initiative 713 fact sheet.