This commentary is by Bob Galvin of Richmond, a former wildlife researcher and the Vermont state director for the nonprofits Animal Wellness Action and Center for a Humane Economy.
In a recent survey of Vermonters’ attitudes towards furbearer management commissioned by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, 71% of respondents polled said they enjoy having river otters in their area.
Only 1% of those polled regarded otters as a nuisance, which is why I found it so surprising and upsetting that Vermont allows unlimited trapping of otters for several months each year.
These magnificent creatures are usually trapped in body-crushing kill traps purported to kill the animal quickly. However, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department’s “best management practices” for trapping allow trapped animals to suffer for up to five minutes in “kill” traps before losing consciousness and still meet their “best management” criteria.
These same best management practices allow 30 percent of trapped animals to suffer for an undetermined period of time before they die. This happens when a kill trap catches an animal by the tail, face, or other body part and doesn’t deliver a lethal effect, thereby prolonging suffering.
Imagine the agony these trapped animals endure, all for recreation and tradition. The recreational trapping season also presents a danger to birthing and nursing otters and their vulnerable pups.
In addition to otters, countless other animals termed “furbearing” mammals, including bobcats, are trapped each year, mostly for recreation and perhaps a few dollars they can get by selling the pelt to international buyers. Steel-jawed leghold traps are their trap of choice.
Animals caught in leghold traps may break their teeth on the hard metal of the trap, break bones trying to free themselves, or even chew off their own limbs in a desperate bid for escape.
In addition to the targeted species, there are untold numbers of nontargeted animals, like raptors and even turtles, that are trapped every year as bycatch. Last year in Reading, Vermont, a black bear was found with a leghold trap on its paw.
As a field biologist, I participated in the capture of federally protected animals for scientific research and I can tell you that wild animals do not want to be restrained, and will often fight extremely hard to free themselves. Even animals not subjected to excruciating leghold traps are inflicted with extreme amounts of stress in the process of being caught/trapped.
The suffering of trapped animals does not end when the trapper returns, since there are no regulations on kill methods once the animal is writhing in the trap. Beating with bats, stomping or otherwise crushing, or choking and strangling are in the tool kit of the trapper.
I am immensely thankful for bill H.191, An Act Relating to Trapping, introduced by Rep. Lawrence Satcowitz, D-Randolph, to put an end to the trapping of otters and other furbearing mammals in Vermont for recreation or commerce in fur. The bill has 25 co-sponsors who represent a wide variety of Vermonters’ interests in every corner of the state.
The Vermont public has spoken on this issue; 68% of Vermonters polled in the aforementioned Vermont Fish & Wildlife-commissioned survey oppose trapping for recreation. I encourage people to contact their legislators and encourage them to support H.191.
The otters and other animals deemed “furbearers'' will be better off after this legislation. So, too, will be our pets, made safer by not being caught in an indiscriminate trap. If you’re interested in getting involved in Vermont animal advocacy efforts, please e-mail me directly at BGalvin@animalwellnessaction.org.