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Sharing the forests

January 19, 2012

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.