Vermont Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife, Louis Porter, Weighs in on Trapping

compiled by Mike Dunphy

The Bridge: Why does the State of Vermont support trapping?

Louis Porter: I understand and respect people for their views on trapping and their right to oppose it, but there are several aspects they don’t understand. One is that in some places where trapping is banned, or virtually banned, such as Massachusetts, they now trap as many beaver as they ever did. They just trap them as a nuisance species instead of for fur. That matters for two reasons. First, landowners have to pay trappers to take those beavers instead of the trappers taking them as part of their recreational or fur trapping. Second, the fur from those beavers isn’t getting used and is just thrown in the landfill. So the idea that you could ban trapping and that it would result in animals not being trapped is just wrong.

So the idea is that if you’ve got regulated trapping, you’ll have fewer animals getting trapped as nuisances.

Porter: Exactly.

And the nuisance animals are killed?

Porter: In nuisance trapping, yes. The reason for that is we don’t want people moving the animals and spreading disease. And in any case, moving them probably wouldn’t work because there would most certainly be another animal of that species occupying the niche where they’d be moving them.

What animals are getting trapped in Vermont?

Porter: There are 17 species of fur-bearing animals, 16 of which can be trapped in some form. Of those, the most common are probably beaver and muskrat. There is also trapping for bobcat, coyote, and river otter. And then there is trapping of animals primarily because they are a nuisance, such as skunks and some others.

What about the cruelty aspect of trapping?

Porter: Fish and wildlife departments and trappers across North America have worked for a long time to come up with the most humane traps and management practices. Modern traps hold the animal but generally don’t cause damage to them. In fact, when we are reintroducing fur-bearing animals, we often use leg-hold traps to catch those species because most of the time they can be released uninjured. Recently we’ve brought back martens to Vermont. The idea that trapping causes a lot of pain and injury to the animal is not right. That is not to say trapping doesn’t cause stress and anxiety for the animal.  It’s also not true that animals are stuck in traps for days; that’s illegal. Except for killing traps, in which the animal is killed immediately, you must check your traps every 24 hours.

Might the animal injure itself trying to escape the trap?

Porter: It’s possible, but that’s quite unusual with modern traps.

Why not just shoot the animals as with hunting?

Porter: You could if you were willing to spend hours waiting for a nuisance beaver or hire someone to do that. But you really don’t want to shoot into the water. That can be quite dangerous, especially in areas where there are houses, people, or cars. When you are talking about a nuisance trapping, the animals are usually in areas near human infrastructure. So you really don’t want people shooting at a pond near a house.

Is there any kind of new regulation or change to the trapping laws you’d support?

Porter: Fur trapping is the most regulated recreational activity in the state. We do support a bill that’s in the legislature right now which would require nuisance trappers to be trained and licensed as trappers.

Is there anything people can do to reduce the amount of trapping required?

Porter: Certainly, and we always encourage people to take those steps. You can put in what are called beaver baffles, which lower the level of beaver ponds. You can lock up your animals. You can put up fences. But in some circumstances, trapping is the only solution and always the most cost-effective one.

So in summary you find trapping to be a very effective and humane way to control state animal populations.

Porter: Yes. Trapping does cause stress and anxiety for animals caught in a trap, but we do many things that do the same—and cause death—from farming to hunting to driving cars to building houses.

One of the things the anti-trapping advocates don’t acknowledge is that recovery of many species is dependent on trapping of other species, including animals that do direct predation. Fishers are a major competitor of, and a likely a predator of, American martens. We are trying to restore martens in Vermont, and it’s facilitated greatly in areas where there’s trapping of fishers.

Is there any other aspect to support trapping we’ve not covered?

Porter: The fundamental belief and guiding principle of my department is that people will conserve and value and protect the things that they use and that sustain them, and some of the best naturalists I know are trappers and hunters. I think the fundamental difference between those who support trapping and those who oppose it, is the group versus the individual.  My primary interest and mission is on the population level, and I think the concern with trapping is about the individual animal. While that’s a very valid point, and we should all be concerned about animals, in my mind the overriding concern is managing and restoring populations

So the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?

Porter: I would say yes. The need to have a healthy habitat and population of wildlife outweigh the consequences of individual animals for hunting and trapping.

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