October 25, 2006

Councilman Behaving Brad-ly

He left the courtroom, offended. Last Thursday night East Hampton Town Councilman Brad Loewen stormed off the dais during a public hearing on the proposed ban of deadly animal traps on public nature preserves.

The irate exit was sparked by the prospect of a demonstration of how one type of trap works. When Sara Davison and another representative from the Animal Rescue Fund in Wainscott asked to undertake the demo, Loewen interrupted, entreating Supervisor Bill McGintee to refuse the "sensational" request.

"Mr. Supervisor I am going to request that you do not allow this demonstration to happen because it does not add to the debate," he said. The demonstration would do nothing but make the point that trapping is "cruel and inhumane," the councilman opined, adding the law was not being debated based on cruelty or inhumanity.

The supervisor overruled Loewen's request, arguing that he doesn't know how a body-gripping trap works and felt it would be useful to see what it does. "We all know exactly what it does," Loewen replied hotly. "We know exactly that it kills animals. It's designed to kill animals. This is designed to show the public, in a sensational way, how it does that."

McGintee overruled Loewen's request, prompting the councilman to declare, "Mr. Supervisor, I find it offensive. I request that I be allowed to leave the room."

That wasn't the only time Loewen broke from traditional public hearing behavior. Throughout the outing, he questioned speakers testifying in support of the ban, eliciting gasps from those present when he confronted Gail Murphy. The death of Murphy's dog Zephyr last winter drew attention to the problem of traps on nature preserves. Since the incident, which occurred in a preserve in Sag Harbor, both Suffolk County and Southampton Town have enacted bans on traps on public lands. The county version was even nicknamed "Zephyr's Law."

After Murphy offered her support for the bill, Loewen called her back to the podium. Giving voice to the criticism leveled by pro-trappers following the dog's death — that Zephyr ought to have been on a leash and not running free in the preserve — the councilman asked, "Do you take any responsibility for the death of your own dog?"

"I do not," Murphy replied. She said she thought she was on a nature preserve, which, by definition, was there to preserve nature, not destroy it. Like many, Murphy said she had no idea trapping was still legal. Davison interjected that Murphy acted well within the law; dogs can be allowed off the leash in nature preserves.

Beyond ARF, the Group for the South Fork and several other environmental groups weighed in in favor of the ban. Some provided harrowing tales of ministering to "non-target animals" caught in traps. GSF president Bob DeLuca revealed that in an earlier career as a field biologist, he got caught in a leg-gripping trap while mapping the Peconic Estuary.

Loewen asked if he was injured and DeLuca noted he wasn't, thanks to big hiking boots. The environmentalist told the story, he said, to make clear traps are "out there and they're easy to get into."

DeLuca's remarks referenced arguments board members Deb Foster and Pat Mansir have both offered in favor of the ban: the population has swelled to such a degree that the dangerous traps, once set in areas guaranteed to remain isolated, now could pose a danger to recreating residents and visitors.

In an interview Friday, Foster grabbed a brochure about open space and trails distributed by the town. Holding up the pamphlet, she pointed out that the town is inviting people to use its nature preserves and has an obligation to make sure they are safe.

At the hearing, Tom Miller appeared to believe the trails are safe. Not only that, he demonstrated the type of trap he uses to catch muskrat, tripping it with his own hand. Holding the limb with the metal instrument hanging from it aloft, Miller told the board it didn't hurt.

He's trapped his whole life, the local man testified. He's never heard of a human injured in a trap. Miller could live with a ban on the large body gripping traps, but banning the smaller traps would put him out of the muskrat–trapping business. He eats the animal and squirrel, too. Raccoons and possums, he gives to local black families, he said.

Hugh Miles also testified in opposition to the ban. He weighed in in favor of the continuation of old time traditions and has repeatedly appeared before the town board in support of hunting.

When Miles admitted that few people sell pelts or eat the meat of animals caught in traps anymore, Councilwoman Pat Mansir asked what trappers get out of the experience. It's the enjoyment of being outdoors, Miles replied, adding "It's getting up in the morning and going out . . . "

"And killing something," an audience member intoned.

Mansir remarked, in relation to the "it's a tradition" argument, "People used to use outhouses. They don't do that anymore. Not everything carries through the ages."

The board won't meet again until next month. No set date for a vote has been scheduled. It appears the majority of the members favor the ban.

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