Commentary

Lisa Jablow: In Fish & Wildlife survey, nearly two-thirds of Vermonters oppose trapping 

This commentary is by Lisa Jablow, a resident of Brattleboro.

The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department fielded a survey recently on Vermonters’ attitudes towards trapping. Documents obtained via a public records request show that the department seemed more interested in advancing a pro-trapping agenda than in genuinely understanding the public’s attitudes. 

Despite this bias, with vaguely worded survey questions, the results still reveal that most Vermonters oppose trapping. 

The survey didn’t clarify what types of trapping the questions were referring to, so respondents answered without knowing whether the survey was asking about live-capture cage traps like HavaHart traps, leghold traps, or body-crushing kill traps such as Conibears. This confusion skews responses because some respondents approve of trap use if animals accidentally caught can be released and if the animals die quickly. 

However, the traps that the department regulates are almost exclusively either leghold or body-crushing kill traps that rarely offer the ability to release animals unharmed or ensure quick kills. Leghold traps generate such pain and fear that animals will chew through their paws to escape; others are preyed upon while immobilized and suffer injuries not visible to the naked eye, such as dislocations and severed tendons. 

Body-crushing kill traps often don’t kill instantly when the trap slams shut on the animal’s head or tail instead of the neck. And in terms of releasing a wild animal uninjured from a leghold trap, imagine trying to release a bobcat from a leghold trap without injuring the animal or yourself in the process. We suspect most of these non-target captures end up dead.

The survey uses the term “regulated trapping.” A department email exchange reveals that inserting the word “regulated” before “trapping” improves respondents’ favorability toward trapping. But what does “regulated'' really mean? One might support “regulated” trapping if they assume that the opposite might mean unregulated.

Let’s take a look at what Vermont’s “regulations” currently allow:

● No trail setbacks or signage on public lands where trapping occurs

● No bag limits or limits on the number of traps that may be set by one trapper in an area

● No humane standards for killing trapped animals (bludgeoning, drowning, strangling, and other grossly inhumane methods of killing are currently used) 

● Children are allowed to trap without adult supervision

● Reporting of nontarget animals such as bears and protected species like owls and hawks is not required

● Baited body-crushing kill traps may be set on land, including our shared public lands, putting people’s pets at risk

● Seasons for some animals like otters last almost half the year

Additionally, public records also reveal that a department staff member in charge of the survey questions was advised by a department furbearer biologist not to include survey questions that reference trapping when it’s used to manage populations or relocate animals as part of a restoration program, since those uses are not relevant to trapping in Vermont. 

Nevertheless, those two reasons for trapping were still included. Not surprisingly, those two uses are the ones that garnered the most support, thus skewing the results toward trapping. 

As an aside, the survey also revealed that the majority of respondents enjoy seeing animals like bobcats and otters in their area, so why does the department allow these cherished animals to be trapped?

The department spent $45,000 on this survey, more than twice the revenue generated through trapping licenses each year in Vermont. Despite concerns over the bias in the survey questions chosen, the results are still resoundingly clear that the majority of Vermonters oppose trapping. 

Trapping should be outlawed as the archaic, inhumane, and completely unnecessary recreational activity that it truly is. 


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