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Vermont wildlife agency says proposed rules will 'modernize trapping'

A white table with the bodies of seven racoons, laying belly down and tails toward the camera.
Maggie Stabrard
A collection of specimens from the raccoon family displayed in a storage room of the Smithsonian. Vermont Fish & Wildlife is proposing new trapping rules based on a set of best management practices informed by a 20-year, nationwide study.

Starting in the late ‘90s, researchers in Vermont and across the country went out with trappers to look at how effective different types of traps are, and how often animals are injured in the process.

Over more than 20 years, they captured nearly 10,000 animals and had veterinarians study their carcasses. From those findings, wildlife managers came up with a set of best management practices to minimize injuries and incidental take.

This is what Vermont’s Fish and Wildlife Department has used as a basis to propose new rulesfor trapping animals like beavers, bobcats, and raccoons in the state, alongside input from a group of hunters and wildlife advocates that met several times last year.

“Vermont’s going to be the first state to implement the best management practices,” said Brehan Furfey, a biologist with the state. “We have a really unique opportunity to get it right.”

The department released their proposal last week because the state Legislature mandated they come up with new guidelines to “modernize trapping,” to make it safer and more humane. A public comment period on the new regulations is open through the end of June, and whatever rules are finalized will go into effect in January of 2024, when most of the upcoming trapping season will be over.

The proposed changes include a 50-foot buffer from roads, class 4 highways and town trails where hunters can’t set their traps. That applies to anywhere in the state outside of Wildlife Management Areas, Furfey said. The proposal also adds restrictions on the types of foothold traps hunters can use, and requires body-gripping traps, also called quick-kill traps, to be five feet off the ground when they’re on land, or placed in a cage, to prevent pets from getting caught.

Keeping pets safe is a big concern. The 50-foot setback is to ensure traps are set far enough back from a trail or road to exceed the length of a dog leash, Furfey said.

Over a recent five-year period, the department reported 36 cats and dogs had been caught in traps in the state, and four of the animals died from their injuries. Hunters also unintentionally caught dozens of bobcats and fishers in traps meant for other species over the same time period, and six bobcats died from the traps, according to a recent department report.

More from Vermont Public: Vt. Fish and Wildlife Board advances proposal on hunting coyotes with dogs and trapping

Bruce Martin, a hunter from East Montpelier, thinks the proposed changes will be significant for wildlife.

“The trapping devices is going to be a big help for animal welfare,” he said.

Martin was part of the group that met with Vermont Fish & Wildlife officials last year to help draft the changes. He doesn’t set his traps near trails, so the proposed setback requirement wouldn’t impact him. But the requirement to set body-gripping traps off the ground would limit where he can trap, especially in brushy areas, where you can’t set a trap in a tree.

“There are some instances where a body-gripping trap is the more humane alternative,” Martin said. “Taking that away could be a significant hindrance.”

Brenna Galdenzi, the president of Protect Our Wildlife, was also part of the working group and has been advocating to ban recreational trappingin the state. She felt like her input was not taken into consideration, including banning body-gripping traps on land.

“A trap that is so non-selective and so dangerous and so deadly should not be allowed on land in any circumstance,” she said.

“What we walked away with, which I think is invaluable, is that we will see no positive changes for wildlife going through Vermont Fish and Wildlife,” she said. “The only way that we will see positive changes for wildlife is through the Legislature.”

Anne McKinsey from East Corinth, whose dog was killed by a trap last year, also said by email that she was unsatisfied with the department's proposed regulations.

"They fall way short of any meaningful protections for wildlife, pets" she wrote.


Lexi Krupp is a corps member with Report for America, a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and regions.

Lexi covers science and health stories for Vermont Public.
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