OPINION: Hearts of Darkness

by David F. Kelley

Trapping season started in Vermont this past Saturday (October 27). It runs through March 31, 2018.

Most Vermonters don’t pay much attention to trapping season unless their dog or cat is one of the non-targeted animals that gets injured or killed by a leghold trap.  But those of us who live in rural Vermont and who appreciate wildlife as one of the greatest gifts of being here should consider why we continue to let these devices be used on our wildlife.

On their website the Vermont Trappers Association (VTA) says their mission is, “Conserving wildlife and preserving our outdoor heritage for future generations of outdoorsmen and women.”  To see how they are “conserving wildlife” and “preserving our outdoor heritage,” go to YouTube and Google “Vermont trappers.”  If what you see there is part of “our outdoor heritage,” then we should all be ashamed.  The trappers in those videos are doing as much for conservation as Kim Jong-Un is doing for human rights.

The VTA’s website goes on to say that their mission is also “Providing trapper education, emphasizing the most humane techniques in harvesting furbearers, and giving special consideration to conservation of wildlife species.”  There is nothing “humane” about a trap that snaps shut with 90 pounds of pressure per square inch on the legs or head of a fox, bobcat, or dog, crushing arteries and leaving the animal panic-stricken and frightened, with broken bones and without food or water for days—until the trapper comes along and puts it out of its misery or until it succumbs to an agonizing and prolonged death. In most instances these animals are doing no harm to anyone. On the contrary, the presence of these wild and innocent creatures is one of the great joys of living in a rural state.  Subjecting even coyotes that are harassing livestock to these cruel and sadistic traps is unconscionable.

One of the arguments I hear most often from trappers is that the people who are opposed to leghold and conibear traps are all “flatlanders” who don’t understand Vermont traditions. I have lived in Vermont almost all of my life (I spent three years away in law school and five years in Montana, where I often helped a respected hunting guide). My father was the Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture and an avid hunter. My grandfather was the State Treasurer. I know something about Vermont traditions. Torturing innocent wildlife is not a Vermont tradition. If we are hunting an animal and we are going to kill it—we do it with skill, care, and respect. Leaving a frightened, panic-stricken animal suffering with injuries and without food or water for days has nothing to do with “Vermont traditions” or with simple decency for that matter.

The American Veterinary Association, the American Animal Hospital Association, the World Veterinary Association, the Sierra Club, and even the National Animal Control Association all strongly oppose the leghold trap. Common sense would dictate that, at a minimum, trappers be required to place signs or warnings about where they have set these traps, especially when traps are set near hiking trails. Common sense would also dictate that trappers report trapping a pet. But there are no such requirements.

Article 18 of the Colorado Constitution is even better than those simple, common sense reforms. It says:  “It shall be unlawful to take wildlife with any leghold trap, any instant-kill body-gripping design trap, or by poison or snare in the state of Colorado.”

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