(Columbus) – Trappers in Maine and sportsmen nationwide scored a huge victory after a Federal Court of Appeals rejected an effort from anti-hunting groups seeking to use the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to stop trapping in the state. This decision reaffirms a lower court decision that set a precedent against manipulation of the ESA to stop hunting, fishing, and trapping.

“We are ecstatic and relieved that this lawsuit is no longer a threat to our lifestyle as we prepare to open the 2010 trapping season,” said Skip Trask of the Maine Trappers Association. “The Maine Trappers Association couldn’t be happier with this decision. It is much more than just a victory for Maine. This decision will help protect all trapping and other sports from coast to coast. We appreciate the support and guidance of the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation (USSAF) legal team and all of our partners.”

The anti-hunting groups had originally filed the suit in 2008 against the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. They had argued that Maine’s trapping regulations provided insufficient protection for the Canada lynx, a species listed as threatened under the ESA, and thus required the season to be stopped.

The USSAF, along with the Maine Trappers’ Association, Fur Takers of America, National Trappers’ Association, and several individual sportsmen, intervened in the case on behalf of the state. The groups argued that those seeking to shut down an entire season of trapping (or hunting or fishing) must not only prove the incidental take of an ESA-protected species, but also “irreparable harm” to the population.

In the initial lower court decision, Judge Woodcock concluded that the take of individual members of a reasonably numerous protected species does not necessarily meet the requirement of irreparable harm. He also indicated that the take of lynx occurring in Maine foothold traps, typically catch-and-release incidents, did not constitute irreparable harm in this case. Consequently, Judge Woodcock declined the injunction and the trapping season was able to take place.

Unhappy with the result, the anti-hunting groups filed an appeal in December, 2009 seeking to reverse Judge Woodcock’s decision. The USSAF and the others immediately filed legal briefs in order to defend the major legal victory.

In the unanimous opinion rejecting the appeal, Chief Judge Lynch affirmed Judge Woodcock’s findings that the plaintiffs’ failed to demonstrate the irreparable harm necessary for an injunction. Judge Lynch then went on to criticize the plaintiffs’ last-minute request for lesser sanctions restricting trapping. In the lower court, Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) expressly refused that option and instead pursued a full ban on trapping.

“It may well have done so for tactical reasons, preferring to stress the inadequacy of other remedies in order to strengthen its case for injunctive relief against foothold traps,” wrote Lynch. “Parties are held to their choices and AWI’s bait and switch tactics in the courts are to be deplored, not rewarded.”

The latest decision should assist in the defense of any further lawsuits by anti-trappers. It leaves the plaintiffs in this case with few options other than a petition to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. The Supreme Court agrees to consider only a few dozen cases a year out of the many hundreds of cases filed with it each year.

“It was clear all along that anti-hunters were looking to set a precedent that could be used in state after state to shut down not only trapping, but hunting and fishing as well,” said Bud Pidgeon, USSAF president and CEO. “With this strong decision, antis are going to have a far more difficult time doing this.”

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