The legal trapping season in Vermont starts on Oct. 24 this year and lasts through the end of March. Many Vermonters are surprised to learn that steel-jawed leghold, body-crushing "kill" traps and drowning traps remain legal in Vermont. Thanks to the work of local wildlife protection groups, more and more people are becoming informed about trapping and are eager to ban it.
Historically, the general public rarely got to see a terrified red fox or bobcat thrashing in a leghold trap or a river otter crushed in a Conibear "kill" trap. Thanks to social media, and the photos and videos shared by trappers, the public is now seeing trapping for what it is: legalized cruelty to animals. No amount of euphemistic language or pro-trapping propaganda promoted by Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department or trappers can hold water against clear evidence of animal suffering. Fish & Wildlife’s pro-trapping propaganda machine has led the public to believe trapping is warranted and refer to it as "conservation."
For a paltry $23 trapping license fee, trappers are allowed to trap and kill unlimited foxes, beavers, otters, bobcats and other wildlife in season, with little to no oversight. Fish & Wildlife's regulations are enforced with a very light touch. Until just a few years ago, trappers didn’t even have to report their kills! Even for protected species like owls and hawks, there is no required reporting if one of them is caught in a trap set for another animal. Other non-targeted victims include endangered pine martens caught in traps set for fisher, as well as herons, turtles, deer, black bears and barred owls, to name a few. These were only discovered through public records requests or through trappers Facebook pages.
What makes a bad situation worse is that many of the traps in use today are fundamentally unchanged from those used hundreds of years ago. All traps, even kill traps, which are known to malfunction, can cause severe injuries. These injuries are not always visible. Animals sustain broken teeth and bloody gums from chewing on the metal to free themselves. Other injuries, such as broken bones, joint dislocations and severed tendons, can impede an animal’s ability to hunt successfully if released.
When wildlife advocates seek modest changes to trapping regulations, they’re routinely turned away by Fish & Wildlife. This past January, Protect Our Wildlife submitted a petition to Fish & Wildlife requesting three items: 1) posting signs at trailheads on public lands informing the public of the presence of traps; 2) discontinuing the use of visual bait on traps to reduce the incidental take of bald eagles and other raptors; 3) implementing setback requirements for traps set near public trails and recreation areas. The petition was rejected.
It seems as though the general public, which largely opposes trapping, is routinely ignored while Fish & Wildlife panders to the 0.15% who trap. A 2017 University of Vermont Center for Rural Studies poll revealed 75% of Vermonters polled oppose trapping.
The writer is member of Peace of Mind Animal Wellness.