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Court Upholds Calif. Law Preventing Cruel Trapping and Poisoning of Wildlife

A California court has upheld the constitutionality of Proposition 4, a 1998 state ballot measure banning use of cruel traps and poisons for the purpose of killing wildlife. Acting on a motion filed by The Humane Society of the United States, the court rejected a challenge by a handful of disgruntled ranchers resistant to using humane alternatives to address conflicts between wildlife and livestock production.

Jonathan R. Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation for The HSUS said: “We are delighted the court has sided with the millions of California voters who supported Proposition 4 and chose humane treatment over cruel and antiquated practices. All wildlife management officials, including California state agents and federal Wildlife Services personnel, should be required to use only the most humane methods of capture and handling of wild animals.”

The court dismissed the ranchers’ claims that Proposition 4 conflicts with the authority of Wildlife Services, a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture that kills hundreds of thousands of wild animals a year, to use traps and poisons. In 2004, the ranchers’ attorney raised the same claim while representing a different group of plaintiffs in federal court. In that case, the court upheld Proposition 4 after finding that it has long been the official policy of Wildlife Services that it must abide by all state and local laws, including restrictions on devices used to capture and kill wildlife.

California Proposition 4 passed by a statewide vote of 57.5- 42.5 percent. Animal advocates and citizens proposed the measure in response to substantial evidence that trappers used certain devices, including the barbaric steel-jawed leghold trap that the American Veterinary Medical Associations determined to be ‘inhumane,’ to intentionally kill more than 24,000 wild animals each year in California. These indiscriminate traps and the appallingly cruel poisons Compound 1080 and sodium cyanide, also banned by Proposition 4, threatened non-target wildlife, pets and the environment.

In its written order, the court held that “the clear and manifest intent of Congress (as evident from the explicit statutory language of [federal law]) confirms that Wildlife Services will comply with state law.” In the wake of several recent high profile incidents of abuse of wildlife and pets by Wildlife Service’s employees, this ruling provides important confirmation that Wildlife Services is required to comply with state anti-cruelty laws.

The HSUS was represented in the case by the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP, and lawyers in The HSUS's animal protection litigation section.

Media Contact: Rebecca Basu; 240-753-4875; rbasu@humanesociety.org

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