Why are 24 Hour/Daily Trap Checks Warranted?
Trapped animals are exposed to the elements, the bitter cold, risk frostbite, dehydration, unable to escape from potential predation, ie. other animals attacking and feeding on them. Trapped animals suffer from mouth injuries and dislocations in their attempt to escape the trap. Some lose teeth, as was the December 2018 case of the little lost dog trapped overnight in Helena. Some eventually bite off or twist off their trapped paw. Trappers call it wring off. Some escape with the trap or snare attached.
A wolf trapping study was conducted in Minnesota between April and October, with almost all captures occurring when temperatures were above freezing. The protocol was daily trap checks. The trap tested was a leghold trap Livestock Protection Company #4 with smooth offset jaws. 18% of the captured wolves had dental injuries rated as "moderate" to "severe" and the rest were described as uninjured to having "mild" injuries. "Serious leg injuries were relatively common; however, compared with different trap types tested in other studies, 63% were scored as having moderate to severe damage including major cutaneous lacerations, tendon damage, and fractures including some to the radius or ulna."
Sahr, D.P., and Knowlton, F.F., 2000, Evaluation of tranquilizer trap devices (TTDs) for foothold traps used to capture gray wolves: Wildlife Society Bulletin, v. 28, p. 597-605.
The Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) represents North America's fish and wildlife agencies "to advance sound, science-based management and conservation of fish and wildlife and their habitats in the public interest.” “The purpose of Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) Furbearer Management and Best Management Practices for Trapping Program (BMPs) is to improve regulated trapping by evaluating trapping devices and techniques used for the capture of furbearers and educating those who use traps about the most humane, safe, selective, efficient and practical devices. “
Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies states, “Make a commitment to check your traps at least once every day. When you set out a trapline, you assume responsibilities. Animal welfare is a top priority. Most furbearers are nocturnal so it is best to check your live-restraining traps at first light each morning. If you cannot check them at daylight, check them as early in the day as possible. One important difference between trapping and hunting is your commitment to work your trapline every day until you remove your traps. Hunters can choose the days they want to hunt, but trappers must check their sets every day. Bad weather or other problems should not change your plans. If you cannot personally fulfill your responsibility to wildlife and fellow trappers because of illness have another licensed trapper check your line. “
36 states have 24hr/daily trap checks within their trapping regulations. These include Washington, Colorado, New York, Arizona, Vermont, New Mexico, Minnesota. In Montana, 48 hour trap checks is a recommendation, not a requirement other than for traps set for wolves and in designated lynx protection zones for traps set for bobcats. Montana joins the low ranks of only two other states, North Dakota and Alaska in having no required time frame trappers must check their traps and snares legally permitting animals to linger, suffering in traps and snares for days, weeks.
The longer an animal is in a trap the greater the damage whether that be to a coyote, a wolf, a mountain lion, a wolverine, an eagle, a lost pet or a working dog.
When the environmental temperature drops below 32° F (0 celsius) blood vessels close to the skin start to narrow and constrict. Frostbite strikes the areas of the body that have the slowest circulation. The death of tissue due to frostbite is actually caused by a lack of blood flow. This is what occurs as an animal lingers in the trap during temperatures below freezing. As frostbitten tissues thaw. they may become red and very painful due to inflammation. The clinical signs of frostbite may take several days to appear. Severely frostbitten areas will become necrotic or die. Animals such as mountain lions highly dependent on those paws have little chance of survival and are believed to eventually succumb to the effects of frostbite after they are released from a trap.
48 mountain lions were reported “accidentally” trapped in a two year time frame 2013-2015 in Montana according to FWP reports. 16 of those were caught in traps set for wolves. 1/3 of those mountain lions in "wolf trap sets" were dead. Recall wolf trap sets require 48 hr check times! 32 mountain lions were caught in traps not set for wolves, ie smaller leghold traps, snares, conibears. 66% were dead! 84% of the reported mountain lions were DEAD OR INJURED! and these are just the ones we know about. 96% were deemed legal trap sets. Over 75% were on public land.
According to the American Medical Veterinary Association, “Limb restraint is likely to cause fear and intermittent collection of animals caught in leg-hold traps means that fear may sometimes be extended as long as 24-hours (with 9 states allowing longer periods). Leghold traps cause injury that sometimes exceeds ISO welfare standards.”
Per the FWP “Non-Target Wildlife Captured in Traps (non-wolf traps)” reports in just 15 months from 10/26/13-1/24/15. Montana trappers reported 63 non-targets, i.e. animals they did not mean to trap. These were not traps set for wolves, either. Among the captures were mountain lions, wolverine, grizzly, great horned owl, deer, black bear, goose, eagle and other raptors. 30% were on private property. Only 1 trap was deemed ILLEGAL. 71% of these 63 non-targeted trapped and reported animals were found DEAD. Trappers DO NOT have to report the non-targets, the accidental captures, if they think the animal is unharmed unless they are in wolf traps.
A condition known as capture myopathy occurs when animals overexert themselves (struggling in a trap for example) so much that physiological imbalances develop and result in severe muscle damage. Capture myopathy may result in sudden death, or clinical signs may develop hours, days, or up to two months following capture in which the animal eventually dies from heart failure. Those that work in wildlife rehabilitation can attest to this.
An average of 55,000 animals are trapped and killed annually in Montana according to FWP. Most of these numbers come from trappers completing a voluntary survey. Less than ½ of the trappers complete the survey. Non-targets, accidental trappings, are not included in the harvest reports. The collateral damage from those animals that eventually escape with the trap still attached, the trap released that still perish, the orphaned young are also unaccounted for.
104 dogs were reported TRAPPED in Montana in less than 30 months, 9/2012 - 2/2015 according to FWP reports. Over half were with their owners. Some pets get killed. Some never get reported. No records are kept of trapped cats. Some pets are lost and found or freed from traps multiple days later. Most incur vet bills that the owners pay. Some trapped pets never make it home.
Scientists and researchers that want the animal alive and uninjured conduct 24 hour trap checks, at minimum. For most, it is every 12 hours including what is practiced by Montana FWP biologists. Many do not trap in the winter in order to avoid frozen paws. Some scientists also put sensors on traps to signal when an animal has been caught, allowing them to respond quickly.
“The longer that animal is in a trap, the more likely you have foot injury, shoulder sprains, vascular damage, neural damage,” said Carter Niemeyer, a retired wildlife biologist who believes traps should be checked daily.
Guidelines from the American Society of Mammalogists state, “Snares or spring foot-hold traps must be checked at suitable frequencies. These observations should be a least daily, but more frequent depending upon target species, the potential for capture of nontarget species, and environmental conditions."
According to the Guidelines from the American Society of Mammalogists, “The number of traps set at a particular time and location should not exceed the ability of the investigator(s) to monitor them at reasonable intervals. Because frequent checking of traps is the most effective means of minimizing mortality or injury to animals in live traps."
All Rights Reserved. 2019
Montana HB287 "Generally Revise Trap-Checking Requirements - 2019
Subject: HB287 - Daily trap check
Honorable Committee Members
On short notice I would like to comment on HB287 before your committee today.
I have been a hunter and trapper for over 60 years. I am a former resident of the state of Montana for 26 years. I am a wildlife biologist with bachelors and Master’s degrees in Wildlife Management from Iowa State University. I have been employed by the US Department of Agriculture/Wildlife Services for 26 years and retired from the US Fish and Wildlife Service after 33 years of combined federal service.
My education and career has involved the live trapping, foot snaring and foothold trapping of many wild carnivores including red foxes, coyotes, wolves, black bear and grizzly bear. I have been a long line fur trapper in Montana in my early years in the state starting back in 1973. My entire career has been at the "field level" with hands-on experience capturing wild animals including golden eagles. I have trapped hundreds, if not thousands of most wild carnivores with emphasis on larger predators. I have skinned and handled thousands of fur pelts from trapline to fur shed.
I want to go on record that I support a 24 hour trap check. During my trapping career which began in the Midwest (Iowa) I have always checked my traps daily. I didn't want my "catch" to be stolen and I have always been an animal lover that tries to minimize unnecessary suffering for animals caught in my traps. Traps catch target species but sometimes non-target pets or unwanted/unintended species. Daily trap check ensures a greater opportunity to cause irreparable injuries to any bird or animal.
Since the mid-1980s I have been involved in gray wolf recovery. Throughout my career I have captured over 300 gray wolves for radio collaring related to predator control activities and research in the states of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Washington and Oregon. I remain a private contractor still trapping wolves upon request and working as a mentor, trainer and advisor to states, tribes and academia. I have never had a wolf die as a result of using foothold traps because I checked traps every single day at dawn or arranged to have other biologists do it for me. I know that all of the wolves survived because they walked away with radio collars.
Daily trap check is essential. Any bird or animal held overnight in a trap have an excellent chance for survival. Trapping in subzero temperatures or extreme heat reduce the chances for survival but an early trap check can certainly help. Even if the animal is to be killed for its pelt or in a control operation a daily trap check is the most humane way to treat wild animals. Going beyond a daily trap check for additional days those animals stress, dehydrate, freeze their extremities and suffer a miserable existence. Daily trap checks reduce the cruelty of trapping. To let animals languish for days is cruelty - no other way to define it. I ask each of you - would you want your pet to be treated that way? Seriously, why should wild animals be treated with any less respect than one of your pets in the same situation? And, many pets are unintended victims of traps.
I have heard all of the arguments to justify not having to check traps daily. People have jobs, want to save on mileage, and the miles are too great in the West to get back to check traps often. I know the real reasons not to check traps often - many trappers are going for numbers. No better way to boast than catching multiple predators daily. Other long line trappers are in the "production" mode and catching hundreds of predators in a season - mainly accomplished by putting out hundreds of traps and getting to them when they can - weather permitting. And, I realize that Western states want predator numbers reduced and need every trapper the states can license to get the job done.
Nonetheless, as a society I hope we can move forward and consider the inhumanness of letting animals (including non-target birds, pets and possibly threatened or endangered species) languish in foothold traps for days at a time. Would you do that to your pet?
Lastly, I suggest you accompany trappers on a trap check after 48 hours, 72 hours or longer. Yes, the animal may be curled up "sleeping" but that doesn't describe the physiological suffering that animal has endured. A daily trap check ensures that the intended or unintended bird or animal in a trap may be humanely killed or released with minimal injuries other than frostbite in the winter.
I have trapped hundreds of animals for control or research and overnight they are generally in excellent condition - well enough to be released with a radio collar and continue to function normally. After more than one day all bets are off - even with all of the improvements in the manufacture of foothold traps with laminated jaws, chain swivels, chain attachments and all of the rest. A daily trap check normally translated into an animal spending less than12 hours in a trap since most are nocturnal.
Thank you for receiving my professional opinion on daily trap check and I hope that it helps you make thoughtful decisions as you address this issue.
A retired trapper