In the last ten years more has been learned about the brain and how it functions than in the preceding several centuries. In the 1960’s, neuroscientists were able to divide the brain into three parts. Two of these, the basal ganglia and the limbic system share common structure and functions in all mammals from rats to humans It is within the limbic system that the thalamus and the amaydala lie, which play the major role in the brain functions associated with pain and emotion. Those emotions include the ones we call fear, grief and anguish.
Think of yourself going about your normal daily activities. Suddenly, with great speed and force, the steel jaws of a Conibear trap spring closed around you from where it was concealed. Impacting your body the trap performs as designed. It crushes your skull, your vertebra or other vital body parts. Or perhaps you become the victim of a leg hold trap. You struggle to free yourself, the traps jaws dig into your flesh sending spasms of pain up your leg. In your desperation to free yourself you bite at the steel, injuring your mouth. Your struggles may result in your dislocating your leg, twisting it off, or you may even gnaw it off in an effort to escape. Unable to extricate yourself, you are (legally) left exposed to the elements vulnerable to frozen appendages, dehydration, starvation and predation. If you survive this, your likely fate is to be bludgeoned to death or, if fortunate, shot. The primary goal is not to end your suffering but to preserve your marketable hide. Perhaps you’ve gone for a swim only to be caught by a trap holding you under water. Despite your panicked struggles, made in vain, you cannot reach the surface for life supporting air. You die of hypoxia. Or, you’re an offspring dependent for your survival on a parent that has been caught in a trap. Your fate now is to die a lingering death from malnutrition. You may just be one of the countless collateral victims of trapping. Anthropomorphizing aside, this reveals the pain and suffering inherent in trapping.
We clearly recognize such acts as constituting torture, being inherently inhumane and morally unacceptable were they perpetrated against us. For years many believed, without any evidence, that only humans feel pain or emotions. We now know better. Dennis “Foothold” Schutz, former Vice President of the Montana Trappers Association, stated, “We trappers do cause pain and suffering to animals and we apologize to no one.” While Mr. Schutz recognizes the pain and suffering inflicted on the animals trapped, this is perfectly acceptable to him. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks.
There is a part of the mammal brain, the cerebral hemispheres with their outer layer the neocortex, which in humans has developed to a higher degree than in other mammals. This is where the higher thought processes, the ability to associate words with thoughts, the ability to problem solve and the ability to develop ethics, morality and a conscience lie.
Unlike hunting and fishing which are regulated for personal consumptive use, trapping is a commercial activity. The demand for the products, furs and cosmetics, significantly from Russians and Chinese, is driven by a desire for styles showing status and feeding vanity. There are numerous clothing alternatives to the skins of animals. Does our ethics, morality and our conscience allow us to condone an activity which causes pain and suffering in order to supply this market? In 1789, Jeremy Bentham, a major figure in formulating Anglo-American philosophy of law, wrote in Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, “The question is not, Can they reason? Nor Can they Talk? But, Can they suffer?” The wildlife in our state belongs to all Montanans. We each have a responsibility for its well being, and that depends on the laws we enact. I urge you to support ballot initiative I-169, for Trap Free Montana Public Lands, in order that all Montanans can vote this November, on whether they want our public lands, only one third of Montana, trap free for people, pets and wildlife. For more information and to help visit www.trapfreemt.org.