On April 5, 2023 the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board will meet to vote on various petitions related to the establishment of a coyote hunting season, wolf recolonization and recommended changes to current trapping practices. In addition, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department (VFW) will be reviewing the proposed changes to the state’s “furbearing species rule” which will become new trapping regulations, most likely in the 2024-25 trapping season.
Act 159 (S.201) which was signed into law in June 2022, directed the Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife to, “submit to the General Assembly recommended best management practices (BMPs) for trapping that propose criteria and equipment designed to modernize trapping and improve the welfare of animals subject to trapping programs.” The act requires the Fish and Wildlife Board to revise the rules regulating the trapping of furbearing animals in the State so that the rules are at least as stringent as the BMPs for trapping recommended by the Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife.
On March 23, 2023 the Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife, Christopher Herrick and retired Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department (VFW) furbearer biologist, Kim Royar provided an update on Act 159 progress to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy ahead of the first vote by the Fish & Wildlife Board on the recommended changes to existing trapping rules. Representatives from the Vermont Wildlife Coalition and Protect Our Wildlife were also invited to testify (see video above).
After filing with the Secretary of State in May 2023, VFW says there will be a public comment period and two public meetings (June 19-21) to solicit public comments on the trapping changes. A final vote on changes by the Fish & Wildlife Board will probably occur in September or October 2023. The public is strongly encouraged to participate in this rule making process, although the changes do not recommend significant changes to trapping practices in Vermont.
In their presentation to the Senate Committee, VFW’s Royar made many statements that were immediately refuted by Vermont Wildlife Coalition and Protect Our Wildlife. Vermont Wolf Patrol would also like to provide rebuttal to what we believe were misleading statements to cast trappers in a positive light to the Committee.
First, was the assertion that trapping is a critical wildlife management tool and “a benefit to furbearer populations in the long-term.” Royar testified that Vermont’s 300 active trappers are “citizen scientists” providing the data VFW needs to monitor furbearer populations, “There really is no other way for us to collect the kind of data that we collect.” Yet at the March 15, 2023 Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board meeting, VFW furbearer biologist, Katherina Gieder listed other data sources such as remote cameras, deer hunter sightings, public reports, roadkill and research studies. “Because you really do have to try to rely on a broad range of information for managing such a broad species.” Still, the biologist asserts that trapper harvest data is “the most important source of information we have for wildlife monitoring.”
What both VFW furbearer biologists fail to mention about the trapper surveys that are so important for managing furbearer populations is that over the last three years, an average of 30% of Vermont’s licensed trappers have failed to return the mandatory surveys. For example, according to data provided by VFW, for the 2021-22 recreational trapping season 1,431 trapper survey were collected yet 2,139 trapping licenses were issued in 2021. Many of the surveys not returned are from licensed trappers who do not trap, such as those who have bought a lifetime hunting & fishing license and received a free trapping license at no additional cost. Regardless of the value gleaned from collected trapper surveys, as of 2018 it is mandatory for all licensed trappers to complete and return surveys and it is clearly evident that approximately a third of Vermont’s licensed trappers are not in compliance with those existing rules. While some may not be active trappers, it is unknown how many are because reporting is voluntary.
When it came to discussing the number of domestic animal captures in traps in Vermont, Royar testified that, “they average during the regulated trapping season about five a year.” By only addressing domestic pets caught in regulated traps, VFW failed to admit that in 2022 alone 13 pets were caught in traps, and the majority were in illegally set traps that the department chose not to include in its testimony to the Senate Committee. By categorizing the supposed benefits of trapping under the umbrella of “regulated trapping” and the negative attributes like species extinction under the “unregulated” category, today’s trappers selectively ignore centuries of overexploitation by fur trappers in New England.
Royar also testified to the Senate Committee that, “Many of the species that we actually monitor today are more common than they were prior to European settlement.” Perhaps this is the claim where VFW stretches the truth the furthest. Vermont’s first European settlement was at Fort Dummer, near present day Brattleboro in 1724. French, English, Portuguese and Dutch fur trappers and traders had already been on the continent for over a hundred years by then, wiping out entire species like the bison, caribou, wolverine and grizzly bear by the time Vermont was settled. Perhaps Royar is citing coyotes which were not here until the 1900’s only after other species like mountain lions, wolves and lynx ha been eradicated leaving an ecological niche for opportunistic coyotes.
In addition to species extinction, the rapacious exploitation by European fur trappers of animal life in the 17th Century also left the original indigenous habitants of what would become New England fragmented and also nearly extinct. The violence committed by fur trappers in America is unparalleled, and current attempts to rewrite the historic narrative by modern trappers today is the fur industry’s economic strategy for survival and has no basis in the improvement of animal welfare.
Another misleading statement by VFW was in regards to the length of Vermont’s trapping season. Royar testified that, “the 4th Saturday in October to the end of December is the time you have land trapping going on.” This is true for recreational trapping, but not for nuisance trapping which can take place all year long. In the 2021-22 trapping season, according to VFW almost half of all active trappers also reported trapping animals outside of the 3-month period cited by VFW. In addition, of the 13 pets caught in Vermont traps in 2022, six of those captures occurred outside of the legal recreational trapping season.
Lastly, in their presentation to the Senate Committee on recommended best management practices for trapping Royar stated, “It’s not going to eliminate injury. This is not a perfect system, but the goal is to reduce injury as much as possible and that’s really what we are trying to do.” Yet Vermont Fish & Wildlife is making no recommended changes for the use of body-gripping traps to kill fisher other than that they should be set five feet off the ground to minimize the killing of dogs which occurred twice in 2022.
Royar told the Senate Committee, “Canada did the testing on body-gripping traps and the U.S. did the testing on foothold traps.” An academic search for Canadian body-gripping trap research found only one such study in 1989 that conducted trap experiments on live fishers at the Fur Institute of Canada’s research facility in Alberta. These tests were used to develop computer simulations for future trap research. Those researchers concluded that mechanically improved Conibear 220 body-grip traps (identical to those currently in use in Vermont) “failed to render irreversibly unconscious in 3 min. Fishers single-struck in the head-neck region, or double struck in the neck and thorax regions. Although the Conibear 220 trap is often recommended as an alternative to the steel leghold trap, it is unlikely that it has the potential to humanely kill fisher.”
Evaluation of Mechanically Improved Conibear 220 Traps to Quickly Kill Fisher in Simulated Natural Environments
If you read the published paper Best Management Practices for Trapping Furbearers in the United States (which Ms. Royar cited in her presentation to the Senate Committee) you will find this quote in the methods section from lead author, H. Bryant White, “…killing trap welfare (time‐to‐death) data collected in Canada (Fur Institute of Canada 2017a) were shared with us and traps were included in BMPs if they met our thresholds for welfare and efficiency; data on killing‐trap efficiency were collected as part of BMP research in the United States. Because we are not at liberty to publish the killing‐trap welfare data collected by Canada, we report only our research on performance of live‐restraining traps.”
H. Bryant White with the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) is one of the most authoritative leaders on trapping BMP’s in the world and by selectively ignoring research that acknowledges the cruelty inherent in a currently used trapping system, AFWA reveals a level of fur industry bias that should be unacceptable to Vermonters who respect and appreciate public trust wildlife.
Please contact the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy and ask them to dismiss claims by Vermont Fish & Wildlife that the state’s trapping practices can ever be humane. Lend your support to S.111 a ban on recreational trapping in Vermont!
Senator Christopher Bray firstname.lastname@example.org
Senator Anne Watson email@example.com
Senator Dick McCormack firstname.lastname@example.org
Senator Mark A. MacDonald email@example.com
Senator Becca White firstname.lastname@example.org