Brenna Galdenzi: Again, Fish & Wildlife unwilling to look at the cruelties of trapping


This commentary is by Brenna Galdenzi of Stowe, president of Protect Our Wildlife.

Last legislative session, Vermonters were excited at the prospect of a bill, S.201, that would ban the use of leghold traps. I testified on the bill and was overjoyed at the amount of public support the bill had. 

One of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department’s senior staff members also testified and, unsurprisingly, masked the inherent cruelties of trapping, convincing some legislators that there is a process called “best management practices” for trapping that improves animal welfare. This is a complete farce. 

Best management practices for trapping have been challenged nationally, including by many scientists, yet the buzz term still manages to whitewash the realities of trapping. Protect Our Wildlife created this white paper challenging best management practices, which was distributed nationally.

For example, under these “best management practices-approved” traps, it is considered only a “moderate” injury if trapped animals have a digit amputated; permanent tooth fracture, exposing pulp cavity; severe joint hemorrhage; eye lacerations; rib fractures; major laceration on foot pads or tongue; and other injuries. 

Would a reasonable person consider these injuries “moderate”? Would an animal even be able to survive in the wild with any one of these injuries? 

Sadly, as a result of Fish & Wildlife;s testimony about best management practices, S.201 was drastically weakened and amended to require that Fish & Wildlife incorporate best management practices into regulations in an attempt to improve animal welfare. You can see the final version of the bill, as enacted, on the Legislature’s website here. You can read Protect Our Wildlife’s letter in response to the final bill here.

Part of Fish & Wildlife’s process of regulating best management practices involved convening working groups with various stakeholders. Initially, it refused to invite Protect Our Wildlife, despite the fact that we are the lead organization in Vermont representing wildlife protection advocates on this very issue.

Yielding to pressure from legislators and other wildlife advocacy organizations, Fish & Wildlife invited us to participate. Disappointingly, the meetings were a complete waste of time. Fish & Wildlife showed little genuine interest in truly improving animal welfare. The trappers who were part of the working group were even more of a disappointment.

While Protect Our Wildlife believes that trapping is inherently cruel, we believe that there are ways to reduce suffering, which is the only reason we wanted to participate. For instance, we asked Fish & Wildlife if it would restrict the methods of killing trapped animals to gunshot only. Currently, trapped animals are bludgeoned, choked, drowned, and subjected to other grossly inhumane methods of killing. 

The trappers in the working group refused to support that meager recommendation, and Fish & Wildlife wanted more time to decide. 

Another one of our recommendations was to prohibit body-crushing kill traps on land — including our shared public lands — as other states have done, but they refused. We also asked that drowning trapped animals be prohibited. We asked that trappers be required to set their traps a reasonable distance away from trailheads, hiking trails, and other public areas where people recreate, as required under S.201, and Fish & Wildlife came back with an inadequate recommendation that does not address the problem. 

These are just a few examples where even the most modest concessions were met with opposition.

The less than 1% of the Vermont public that traps has an outsized stranglehold on Fish & Wildlife policymaking. The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department is mired in a 19th-century mindset when it comes to treatment of wild animals. Just look at the terms it uses when discussing wildlife — it refers to wild animals as “resources” for “harvesting.” 

The majority of Vermonters want better protections for wildlife. They don’t want animals like bobcats and otters trapped merely for recreation and for fur — Fish & Wildlife’s own recent survey proves this. Why is the department so unwilling to respect the wishes of the vast majority of Vermonters?

No amount of propaganda from trappers, Fish & Wildlife and their communications consultants can convince us that trapping is anything other than inherently cruel. Vermonters know that. Despite the carefully crafted marketing materials and snappy buzzwords, a leghold trap will always be a leghold trap. 

Photos and videos of animals suffering in leghold traps marketed as better management practices-approved tell no lies. You can learn more about trapping at ProtectOurWildlifeVT.org.

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