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December 03, 2016
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Sharing the forests

It seems like a no-brainer. If there’s a place where people can be expected to walk with their pets and children, you try to make sure that there are no hazards on or near the path that could cause them injury. It’s partly a matter of ordinary human kindness and partly a matter of self-interest. In New York City, for instance, if you don’t shovel and de-ice the sidewalk in front of a building you own, and somebody falls down and injures themselves, they can sue you. So you shovel the sidewalk. In the country, you make sure there are no unfenced pits or swimming pools on your property and you don’t leave objects lying on or near walkways by which people could be injured if they step on them.

That’s why we were sure, when we heard about the leg-trap accident that befell a dog of one of The River Reporter staff who was walking on Delaware State Forest land in Pike County, PA, that it must be a violation of state law for the trap to be so near the path—in fact, right at its edge. What holds true for the individual property owner surely ought to hold true for the state.

Wrong. As detailed in the story on page 24, there are apparently few limitations on where traps can be set on state land in Pennsylvania, in alarming disregard of the safety of humans and their pets. And some of the justifications given by spokespersons for the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) were an insult to the intelligence. Our reporter was told, for instance, that the dog, who was screaming and frantic enough with pain to try and bite its owners as they attempted to free it, was not really in pain, just disturbed at being restrained.

Treatment of the dog’s leg cost $230, for which its owners appear to have no recompense. And the swelling that occurred on the dog’s leg, as well as its initial inability to use that leg? Must have been its reaction to being confined, and not to the metal bars that snapped shut on it.

We were also told that a child could not be injured by a foot-hold trap, due to the state’s requirement that these traps not surpass a jaw width of 6.5 inches in PA. While it seems to us that most young children have feet smaller than that, there is also the question of whether a curious child could find its fingers locked in the grip of a foot-hold trap.

The implication also seemed to be that only a few diehards would be out in the woods for any reason but trapping during the colder months of trapping season. But there are, in fact, a series of trapping seasons, lasting in all from October through March—roughly half the year.

In any event, we don’t see why the group of taxpayers who like hiking, snowshoeing and the like during the colder months of the year are not entitled to as full an enjoyment of the woods as their trapper compatriots. Nor is it clear to us that they form any smaller a subset of the taxpaying population.

The situation can be improved immensely—without banning trapping—to ensure that all members of the state’s population who want to enjoy the forests throughout the year can do so without fear. First, there should be regulations that any traps must be set back a certain amount, say 30 feet, from public trails. Second, signs ought to be posted at the heads of trails notifying users that, during such and such months, there may be traps in the vicinity. We also think both the PGC and the DEC should develop educational materials for the public containing information on the types of traps that may be encountered in our state forests and instructions on how to extricate our pets or children should they become “restrained” in one.

If the revenue of nearly $700,000 from current licenses is not sufficient to pay for such preventive measures, then a dollar or two could be added to the fees—which would still probably be cheaper than the other fair alternative, of using license fee money to pay damages to citizens whose pets or children are injured in the traps.

If some such steps as those outlined above are not taken, we will continue to see random citizens hit with hundreds of dollars in veterinary or medical bills, not to mention the possibility of permanent physical damage, for an activity in which they do not participate and may not even condone. In a state forest system which encourages multiple recreational uses of its tax-supported lands, that is unacceptable. And it needs to change.