A Perspective on Trapping
There's nothing abstract about trapping. It's rarely about putting food on the table. It is sometimes about making a small profit. It has minimum conservation value. It brings fear, pain and premature death to animals that are caught.
There are three kinds of trapping:
1. Intentional - an animal is deliberately caught in a legal trap during a defined season.
2. "Nuisance" trapping - an animal is trapped out of season because it is classified as a nuisance. It is legal, but there is little or no oversight.
3. Incidental trapping - an animal is caught accidentally in a trap set for another species. Dogs, cats, birds, etc. are all victims of incidental trapping.
Below is a commentary by Rob Mullen on his experience.
"My involvement with the VWC arose from trapping on the 10-acre pond behind our home.
Much of the Vermont Trappers Association showed up to our Select Board meeting, backing the petitioning trapper’s claim that they were all “conservationists,” would never trap out a colony, and that Preston Pond was overpopulated with up to 20 beavers in the pond. As wrong as that absurd claim was (we told the Select Board that there were only 3-5 beavers in the pond), our Select Board decided that “tradition” and equal recreational opportunity for all dictated that the trapping be allowed. Fact: there were three beavers. Two were killed, and the survivor abandoned the pond. Now there are none.
In talking with personnel at the Fish and Wildlife Department, and listening to trappers and their advocates, we kept hearing that modern trapping was:
“Humane;” designed to “maximize animal welfare” with “Instant-Kill” or “Quick-Kill” traps and legholds that caused minimal injury.
An indispensable conservation tool.
In my own reading and research, I learned that:
1. “Highly regulated” included no bag limits on any species, no reporting of numbers killed of any species but three (otter, bobcat, and fisher), no reporting of any “by-catch” including domestic animals or pets and a general difficulty in enforcement that made any claim of being “highly regulated” potentially toothless.
2. “Humane” included using “instant-kill” traps (or as the FWD more modestly calls them, “quick-kill” traps). The official Best Management Practices (BMP) standard for these political euphemisms is not instantaneous or a few seconds as most humane people might imagine. For a beaver in a ‘Quick-Kill’ Conibear 330 the BMP requires only that 70% of trapped beavers die within 300 seconds (five minutes; and 30% taking any amount of time longer). Underwater sets killed in under nine (9) minutes. I was shocked to learn that my beloved Vermont allows drowning as a “humane” method of killing. Colony traps are designed to drown multiple animals at a time.
3. “Conservation Tool”
A common refrain is that trappers help “control” populations. It requires some fanciful “biology” to believe that predators like bobcats, fishers, otters, minks, and weasels, need population control. The FWD confirmed to me that in over 30 years, only one bobcat had been trapped in Bolton, yet, we are not overrun with bobcats. Most years, otters are killed in only a few Wildlife Management Units and yet, we are not overrun by otters. Predator populations have been naturally regulated for millions of years without any help from us (territoriality and prey density).
The argument is often made that trapping provides the FWD with data to track the health and population levels of trapped species. First, given that body counts are only required for three species, that sounds ambitious. Moreover, the best (if not only) remedy the FWD has if a species were to show a decline, would be to restrict further trapping so that the FWD essentially allows trapping in order to determine how much trapping they should allow; absent a compelling reason to trap, that is nonsense.
Ironically, the best argument I’ve heard for trapping from the FWD is for beavers. That is not to concede that non-lethal mitigation (which the FWD recommends first) can’t be more effective in human/beaver conflicts, or to concede that a recreational trapping season has enough impact on the beaver population to reduce such conflicts (again, I don’t know), but it is at least a rational argument. The same cannot be said for many if not most of the other furbearers; most particularly the predators.
Death is a necessary part of life and we all kill; whether directly or not. However, we shouldn’t wallow in it. Our ancestors did and long ago wiped out the main predators for deer (along with most of the deer for a long while). Deer have rebounded and now, hunting is a critically important conservation tool. Few furbearers fit that ecological dynamic.
We should not kill without good reason or need, and then only do so quickly. Trapping, despite its history and utility in times past, has in recent decades, descended to a recreational niche from where its inherent cruelty (BMPs notwithstanding) fails that ethical standard."
Rob Mullen of Bolton, VT is a widely recognized wildlife artist who holds a B.S. in Biology. Rob founded the Wilderness River Expedition Art Foundation (WREAF) in 2005. Working with the Smithsonian’s Artic Studies Center and the Canadian Boreal Initiative among others, WREAF strives to expand environmental education and awareness of the Boreal Forest.