Trapping Reform in Wyoming

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We’re still trapped in the old ways

We thought we could move past this deadly snare for animals. We’re still trapped in the old ways

Devices often leave wolves, coyotes and other wildlife species to die a painful death.

Coyotes are often the intended target of killing neck snares. Trappers sell their pelts for roughly $16.

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Neck snares commonly used by trappers can cause an extended painful death.

Neck snares meant to strangle to death target animals are still regularly used by Canadian fur trappers despite being widely banned across Europe and much of the United States.

These devices often leave wolves, coyotes and other wildlife species to die an horrendous death, even though an international agreement between trappers defines a ‘humane’ death as one that occurs within 300 seconds.

Moreover, other animals — eagles, owls, pet dogs and even people — are occasionally unintended victims of these devices according to Lesley Fox, executive director of The Fur Bearers, an organization which has fought against hunting and trapping since 1953.

“Every year The Fur Bearers are contacted by someone whose animal was either extremely injured or died in a trap,” she reveals. “We know that these devices on a regular basis cause problems for recreationists and their pets.”

Even though the fur market has declined in recent decades more than 45,000 licensed trappers — almost half of them Indigenous — still practice in Canada. The continued use of the ‘killing’ neck snare has amplified the ongoing opposition.

Wildlife conservation officers are responsible for monitoring the trapping industry but there are simply not enough of them. Most trappers will follow regulations but some will trespass on private property and set traps illegally.

A trapper in Nobel, Ontario was fined $2,850 last November after conservation officers discovered a trap line consisting of 14 neck snares he had failed to remove after the winter season. The trapper had “forgotten” he had left them there.

Even calls to post signs warning of traps have been dismissed since trappers worry about vandalism to their devices as a result.

The Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (signed by the European Community, Russia, the United States and Canada in 1997, and ratified by Canada in 1999) sets standards for most traps, but allows snare designs to be regulated by more local authorities — here, the provinces. The agreement included the understanding that Canada would conduct further research to produce a ‘humane’ killing neck snare — one that brings on death in 300 seconds — over the following three years while the use of neck snares would continue.

Gilbert Proulx of Alpha Wildlife Research and Management, holder of a PhD in zoology from the University of Guelph, was the head of wildlife research for the Alberta Research Council (ARC) from 1989 to 1993, and has been a trapper all his life. He says efforts, including his own, to make a humane neck snare never paid off.

“I am not an animal rights activist. I am a hunter, I am a fisherman and I am a trapper, but I am against inhumane trapping and cruelty,” he says.

“I will stumble on traplines and sometimes I will have video cameras. I will hide them in the bush and monitor the snares. Once, on the same trapline there was a coyote and a wolf. The coyote took 14 hours to die. The wolf took four hours.”

Proulx struggles to compose himself before adding that the coyote’s mate sat with her dying partner for hours.

“Traplines can be over 100 kilometres long especially in the far north,” he says. “They set traps and visit them 15 days later. In Canada there is no time limit for visiting your traps … an animal who gets caught would suffer a long time.

“You kick a dog in Toronto and the cops will arrest you for cruelty. But a coyote will spend 14 hours bleeding, crying, suffering. Nothing is being done about that.”

Proulx said the Fur Institute of Canada, which oversees this country’s fur industry, had contracted the ARC to try to design better commercial traps including neck snares — a challenge that fell to InnoTech Alberta after he quit in 1993. The institute’s executive director Doug Chiasson expresses pride in the efforts and the transparency around it, noting “very significant field testing work on killing neck snares over the last few years” and adding “We actually released our recommended design for coyote killing neck snares which is available on our website.”

The Fur Institute of Canada and Innotech’s efforts have yielded no game-changer; less humane traps are still widely used.

In his time at the ARC, Proulx says, he was working on devising what would be deemed a ‘humane’ neck snare but says it ended in failure. He says the killing neck snare is “the most utilized device” among Canadian trappers and he is critical of what he and other parties claim is secrecy about the humane standards of the InnoTech snare.

“There is no (peer reviewed) research published,” he says. “There is no research data we can see.”

The question of killing neck snares is part of a larger debate about the future of trapping generally in Canada. Wildlife photographer John Marriott co-founded Exposed Wildlife Conservancy with Kim Odland, an Edmonton film producer, in 2019. They produced a three-part documentary film entitled “Trapped in the Past” which makes for some uncomfortable viewing.

Marriott spends much of his time in the Alberta backcountry photographing wolves and bears and has come across many carcasses left behind by trappers. Never, he says, has he seen a wildlife conservation officer on those logging roads.

A chance encounter with a trapper made him question the governance of commercial trappers. Invited into the trapper’s home, he learned the fellow had caught nine wolverines on a trapline the previous winter and was worried he had taken too many. He decided he would not trap any the current year.

“It seemed strange to me that he was the one figuring that all out. I thought ‘Is there not some oversight?’ ” Marriott remembers. “Kudos to him but what about all the trappers out there that aren’t doing that?”

More recently he learned one trapper killed 12 wolves near Banff National Park which is conceivably two entire packs — a colossal impact to the local ecosystem.

Exposed Wildlife Conservancy requested information on the work being done at InnoTech under the Freedom Of Information Act and was disappointed that most of the documents were redacted. Chiasson says he hasn’t seen the documents but whatever “would be redacted would be commercially sensitive information.”

Anyone over the age of 16 can become a trapper by taking a weekend course then paying $39.55 for a licence. With the fur market in decline (major clothiers like Canada Goose have bowed to public pressure and no longer buy animal pelts) Fox and Marriott both describe the general practice of trapping as a hobby.

Chiasson, on the other hand, says “Commercial trapping has historically been an important part of life in rural communities and many people in rural communities have more than one line of work.

“They might be people who farm, fish, are involved in forestry, the tourist business, in shoulder seasons. There are many parts of the country where trapping continues to make up a not insignificant income in rural and remote communities.”

Either way, it can have an impact ecologically. According to both Proulx and Marriott, there are extensive traplines just outside many of Canada’s national and provincial parks. They worry about the survival of the Eastern wolf, which is currently listed as threatened. That means it could become endangered if steps are not taken to protect it.

“People don’t realize,” Proulx cautions, “If Eastern wolves disappear that will be because of the trappers. In Algonquin Provincial Park there is no trapping, and wolves have an 80 per cent survival rate there. When they go out of the park their survival rate drops to 35 per cent. They are being killed by trappers who catch Eastern wolves and coyotes.”

Some proponents of commercial trapping, such as Ontario Fur Managers Federation executive director Lauren Tonelli, agree there is little money to be made. At a recent fur market in North Bay an Eastern coyote pelt fetched just $16. Still China, South Korea and some European countries continue to buy Canadian pelts.

“It’s not really about making money,” says Tonelli. “Most trappers are out there; it’s a pastime. You are getting out onto the land, you are very intimately connected with the land you trap on, you know every species’ movement, their population trends, where they are in that area. It allows you to be connected and be outside for a large part of the year.”

Opponents point to the use of taxpayer money to subsidize the fur industry as unreasonable. Between 2015 and 2019 the fur industry benefited from $11.5 million in federal and provincial subsidies, according to records obtained by The Fur Bearers.

“It’s almost as if fur is in a category now with cassette tapes, the yellow pages and rotary phones,” says Lesley Fox. “To continue to prop it up with subsidies is akin to trying to revive eight-track players. It’s just over.”

Paul Gains has travelled the world as a freelance journalist and photographer for almost 30 years.

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