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California and the West | CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / PROPOSITIONS
4 and 6

Animal Cruelty Measures Play to Emotional Issues

November 01, 1998|VIRGINIA ELLIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — With tears sliding down his cheeks, actor Jack Lemmon called for more humane treatment of animals. Tippi Hedren testified against the use of traps to catch bobcats and beavers. Robert Redford lent his name to a strongly worded argument for banning the slaughter of horses.

In an election year when voters are asked to weigh in on issues ranging from property taxes to electricity rates, Indian gaming to school class size, two relatively obscure initiatives on animal rights have caught the imagination of Hollywood.

For Proposition 4, a proposal to ban the use of certain traps and poisons in catching wildlife, and Proposition 6, a measure to stop the sale of horses for human consumption, the star-studded endorsement list reads like the credits for a motion picture epic.

But to the propositions' opponents, the Hollywood outpouring is only an attempt to heighten the emotion surrounding the measures and gloss over the arguments against them.

"We think it's symbolism over substance," said Pat Barr, a spokesman for the No-on-4 campaign. "When you cut through all the rhetoric and pretty faces . . . this truly impacts more than just the Hollywood types who live in their nice secluded areas."

The California propositions are part of a nationwide movement to increase protections for animals that began in the early 1990s and gained momentum throughout the decade as state after state approved a variety of measures to prevent cruelty to critters.

"There is something very powerful about the human-animal bond," said Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States.

To the Humane Society, he said, there is no better example of cruelty to animals than the body-gripping traps that commercial trappers and some government agents use to capture coyotes, red foxes, muskrats and other mammals.

"The main problems associated with the traps are the self-inflicted wounds to the animals," Pacelle said. "Once animals have been captured, they will twist their legs, even chew them off to escape the trap."

So the society is one of the main sponsors of Proposition 4, a measure that would ban the use of body-gripping, leg-hold or snare traps by sport or commercial hunters.

The ban even applies to the government, although it allows the use of snare traps to protect human health and safety.

Proposition 4, however, has split the environmental community, prompting the Sierra Club to side with its supporters, while the California Audubon Society has joined the opposition. Meanwhile, agricultural interests, particularly sheep and cattle ranchers, have invested hundreds of thousands dollars in a campaign to defeat Proposition 4, contending that it will give predators such as coyotes and foxes free rein to feast on their lambs and calves.

They argue that while promoters of the initiative have focused on commercial trapping, the proposition's real impact will be on endangered species--which are prey for wild animals--and ranching interests. Government reports show that in 1996-97, the 282 licensed trappers in California took 24,136 animals.

"[Proposition 4] would take away our most versatile tool, which is the padded trap," said Gary Simmons, state director of wildlife services for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has not taken a position on the measure.

Brian Foster, a biologist under contract with the Navy to protect a colony of endangered birds near San Diego, said foxes and coyotes are easily caught by the leg-hold trap but are cunning enough to avoid more obvious forms of capture.

"In less than 48 hours, a red fox or a coyote can wipe out up to 70 birds and all of their eggs," said John McCaull, the Audubon Society's legislative director. "This initiative created an exemption for public health and safety and did not for endangered species. If they had done that, we probably would have been in support or at least neutral."

But Pacelle, of the Humane Society, called the endangered species argument "alarmist rhetoric" and insisted that there are other effective methods for controlling predators besides traps. He said firearms are commonly used to control coyotes and foxes and, unlike traps, guns do not take other animals with them.

In the battle for dollars, the yes side for both animal propositions have been the clear winners. Both groups of supporters have raised nearly $1 million, enough to finance television commercials.

Even so, Cathleen Doyle, one of the sponsors of Proposition 6, the measure to ban the sale of horses for human consumption, said television stations refused to air her initial ad.

"They thought the first commercial was too troubling, too graphic, that people would become upset," she said. "I said I want people to become upset. These are not food animals . . . they clearly are companion animals and we just do not slaughter or eat our pets."

She said the ad showed a horse being shot in a "kill box" at a slaughterhouse.

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