In June 2022, Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed into law Act 159 which requires the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department to work with the Legislature and the Fish and Wildlife Board to establish best management practices that modernize trapping and improve the welfare of wildlife taken with the use of traps in Vermont. The process to establish these best management practices was initiated in June 2022, and a first draft of recommended regulation changes became available on November 22, 2022 (below)
According to the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA), In the past several decades, state and provincial wildlife agencies in the U.S. and Canada have spent over $40 million on trap research and promotion of humane trapping methods. In the U.S., this program is known as Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Trapping in the United States.
The current Act 159 draft recommendations to improve trapping are based on “peer reviewed national scientific research” and stakeholder feedback gathered in 2022. A public meeting was held in South Royalton on November 29, 2022 to solicit more public feedback and a report to the Legislature is due January 15, 2023. The department will begin the actual rule making process with the Fish and Wildlife Board in February or March 2023.
From VTF&W’s November 2022 draft trapping recommendations:
“Objective: To improve trapping and trapping systems for animal welfare, selectivity, and safety in accordance with the findings of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ (AFWA) decades-long scientific research effort into the Best Management Practices (BMPs) for trapping.“
At the Royalton meeting, presentations were made by representatives of the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, the organization that promotes best management practices in trapping that include lethal research on animals like beavers, pine martens and fishers. In the presentation, Bryant White, AFWA’s Trapping Policy Program Manager broke down the methods used to determine the killing efficiency of traps including those currently used in Vermont. He said the goal of their lethal research is to kill the research animals used in the experimental traps as quickly as possible, with an acceptable level of 300 seconds (five minutes.) White also stated that they must conduct these experiments on at least 20 individuals of each species for which traps are being evaluated and that most times the sample group is larger. Because the AFWA animal welfare perimeters are too difficult to measure in the field, White said the trap tests must be conducted in a laboratory setting.
A quote from AFWA’s introduction to trapping BMPs:
“We are indebted to the Fur Institute of Canada (FIC) for providing valuable information on the animal welfare of furbearers captured in bodygrip traps and the mechanical attributes of both bodygrip and foothold traps. Their research has provided the information needed for inclusion of many important trapping devices in the respective BMPs and would have been practically impossible to obtain otherwise.“
The Fur Institute of Canada (website: fur.ca) is a fur industry organization whose mission is to improve the image of trapping. Their website is full of articles attacking the animal rights group, PETA and opposition to the promotion of a vegan diet and lifestyle. FIC contracts with the provincial government research agency, Innotech Alberta to conduct its trap experiments. Here is what the Fur Institute of Canada has to say about its VTF&W Department supported research program in Canada:
“The Institute’s Vegreville Alberta research facility was completed in 1984 at a cost of over $l million. It was specifically designed to enable teams of scientists, engineers, statisticians and technicians to scientifically measure and improve the welfare of animals related to trapping and to advance trap testing methods. All animals housed in the research facility for the testing of traps are cared for and used in accordance with the requirements of the Canadian Council on Animal Care that oversees the use of animals in research and testing...The Institute’s program places Canada as the world leader in trap research.“
According to FIC, advancements in computer simulation models have led to 90% of the trap research they do at the Vegreville facility to be with computer simulations, yet they admit that models have only been developed for a few of the many species they conduct trap research on. BMPs currently exist for all North American furbearer species except for wolverine, that testing is in progress according to AFWA.
At the Royalton presentation, a VTF&W furbearer biologist stated that some of the data for trap research was recently gathered in the field by Vermont trappers. Developing BMPs for trapping is an ongoing project as research is required as new models of traps are developed. Each new trap will undergo field testing before it is taken to the laboratory. The development of computer models and field testing of new traps does not eliminate the need for live animal laboratory testing during the final stages of trap research according to AFWA.
Not much information is available on the lethal trap research used to establish BMP standards, but this is what we know of past experiments. Between 1985 and 1998, over 170 lethal trap tests were conducted on raccoon, marten and fisher by the “Trap Effectiveness Project” at the Vegreville facility led by Neal Jotham. Below is his breakdown of the trap experiments:
“Phase I: Furbearers that are acclimated to their new surroundings are monitored remotely by state-of-the-art night television cameras as they approach selected traps and trap sets.
Phase II: The traps at this stage fire when triggered by the animal but the killing bar is wired to move only a short distance without striking. Later observations of slow motion video by the researchers can allow them to project where the bar would most likely have struck the animal’s body. These observations can be used to evaluate the trap design, thereby capitalizing on the behaviour of the animal as it approaches the trap.
Phase III: When a stipulated number of animal/trap approaches are deemed to have resulted in a successful strike, the trap is moved to pre-selection where the same animals are anaesthetized and placed in the exact position they were in during the approach phase. The trap is then remotely triggered to strike them. Under the anaesthetic, an animal can feel no pain but its eye reflex can still be monitored to determine consciousness. The eye reflex is monitored for up to five minutes and if it exists at that point, the animal is humanely euthanized (killed).
This Phase of the program informs the researchers whether the mechanical forces in the particular trap are likely to be strong enough to kill the specific animal within three minutes before proceeding to the kill/test with unanesthetized animals. Should the trap not render the stipulated number of animals unconscious within the three-minute test time parameter, it may be re-evaluated for possible engineering improvements and resubmitted to the pre-selection phase.
Phase IV: When a trap successfully passes Phase III, it is then set in the compound as it would be on the trapline for kill-test. Once again, a stipulated number of animals (this time unanaesthestized) must be successfully killed during this phase. Failure at this stage sends the trap back for further evaluation and possible modification. If successful during the first four phases, which are considered the screening phases, the trap is ready for performance confirmation (Phase V), where further kill-tests are carried out to raise the statistical level of confidence that the animals on the trapline will be killed humanely.”
From the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, Nova Scotia, Canada:
Vermont Wolf Patrol is opposed to the use of live animals in research to determine the humaneness of traps designed to kill wildlife and other animals. Inflicting pain and suffering on one animal to hopefully minimize suffering of others is not what the citizens of Vermont wanted when we voiced our support for Senate bill 201 which when introduced was a proposed ban on trapping in the state. Organizations like the Fur Institute of Canada and the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies were created in part to dissuade any limit or ban on trapping with research that would convince us that it is necessary and humane.
According to VTF&W law enforcement, 13 pets were caught in traps set for furbearers in 2022, causing at least two deaths. We are asking citizens and visitors of the state to contact their elected officials and the VTF&W department to let them know you do not support the research being conducted on live animals to improve trapping standards. No amount of money and no amount of research will ever change the fact that lethal traps are cruel and inhumane to pets and wildlife.
VT F&W’s DRAFT RECOMMENDATIONS RELATED TO TRAPPING BEST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES:
PLEASE REMEMBER!!! Vermont Fish & Wildlife will begin the rule making process for these recommendations with the Fish and Wildlife Board in February or March 2023. The Board will host another public meeting as part of that process. If you would like to send comments at any point in this process, please email: ANR.FWPublicComment@vermont.gov with the subject line “BMP Trapping Recommendations.”