Valley News – Jim Kenyon: Bad traps give legal animal trapping a bad reputation


Pete Steever, who first captured a muskrat at the age of 12 on his family’s farm in West Fairy, immediately knew what it meant when he heard what had happened in East Corinth last month. .

“I can’t see very well,” he said. “It takes just one bad egg to ruin it for everyone.”

On December 20th, a 3-year-old Shetland sheepdog named Clara died after being caught in an illegally set trap in the woods near Chicken Farm Road in East Corinth.

The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife has not yet commented, other than to say the investigation is ongoing.

Trapping is a lightning rod problem. Animal rights activists say trapping wildlife, from bobcats and coyotes to beavers and minks, is cruel and unnecessary. It is a management tool and speaks to Vermont’s rural heritage.

Last year, Fish & Wildlife hired Responsive Management, a Virginia-based natural resource research firm, to ask Vermonters about their state’s conservation efforts. Of the residents surveyed, 60% “strongly or moderately supported regulated trapping.” Less than one-third (29%) were strongly or moderately disapproving.

A failed bill in Congress last year that called for banning activities unless it is necessary to eradicate nuisance wildlife. An avoidable tragedy in East Corinth will undoubtedly give ammunition to the ruthless defenders in Montpelier.

“As much as Vermont has become a liberal state, I’m amazed that it has been able to continue to be trapped for so long,” Wes Matern of Tunbridge told me.

Matarn, 76, is a legend in trap circles, said Steever. In the late 1970s, Mattern closed a fur auction with his $10,000 check in his pocket. “It was a lot of money back then,” he said.

These days, the only trap Mattern does is when he’s called by people who want him to keep foxes out of chicken coops and coyotes out of sheep.

This summer he caught a beaver dam flooding a farmer’s field. As payment, Mattern was happy to receive homemade pies from the farmer’s wife.

Defending a trapper (or at least a law-abiding person) won’t win you a popularity contest, including your own home. But it’s not the first time.

Vermont’s trapping season typically runs from late October through late December. (Beaver, muskrat, and otter seasons last he through March.)

Along with obtaining permission from the private landowner, the trapper must tag the trap with his contact information. Apparently, the East Corinthian trapper did neither.

“If a trap is untagged, it’s plotting something it shouldn’t be doing,” said Bruce Barofio, president of the Vermont Trapper Association.

By law, trappers must check land traps every 24 hours. When I stopped by his 56-year-old Stever’s farm on a recent Saturday, he was on his way to check the trap line. “It’s a commitment,” he said, “but it’s my passion.”

Although not required by state law, Steber often puts up signs that read: is being captured. ” contains his name and phone number.

He also tries to keep the trap 5 feet above the ground by attaching it to trees and poles. Capturing Bobcat and Fisher will begin on his December 1st. Fisher his season will last until his December 31st, but the Bobcat he can’t catch after December 16th.

In Vermont, trapping is “strictly regulated,” said Chris Vernier, the state’s wildlife biologist. He added that it was the state’s job to ensure that trapping was conducted “as ethically and as humanely as possible.”

Under a bill passed by Congress last year, Fish & Wildlife officials are developing additional “best management practices” for catches. The proposed changes, still a work in progress, include banning the use of meat-based baits in body-grabbing ground traps.

“Capturing domesticated pets is a relatively rare practice,” according to a draft of the proposed changes posted on the agency’s website.

But keeping meat-based bait body-grabbing traps 5 feet off the ground for the simple reason that “dogs don’t climb trees” could help avoid a repeat of what happened in East Corinth. Barofio said there is. Wildlife suggestions.

It’s unclear if the ground trap that killed Clara was of an acceptable size under current state law.

Last week, I called Clara’s owner, Anne McKinsey. On that fateful afternoon, web designer McKinsey, who has lived in this village for 10 years, set out with Clara down a road she had traveled many times.

Corinth adopted a dog control ordinance in 2015 that does not require a pet to be on a leash if it is orally controlled. I was about 50 yards off the trail when Clara started screaming. Unable to break open the metal trap, McKinsey carried his 30-pound dog into the woods. Clara died shortly before McKinsey reached her parked car.

I asked McKinsey if the experience made her a proponent of no trapping.

Still, she said, states can still do more to raise public awareness that trapping season is underway and the precautions pet owners can take. She hopes that the warning signs put up by responsible trappers like Stever will become mandatory.

Those who want to put an end to trapping may not need a legislative branch. In 2022, Fish & Wildlife estimates that out of the state’s 785 trapping license holders, only about 320 were actually trapping.

As demand dwindles, fur prices have plummeted, and many trappers are struggling to make ends meet after paying for gas, Vernier said.

If Vermont continues to lose trappers, or if trapping disappears altogether, there will be a price. And we’re not talking about the money from license sales, which only accounted for about $18,000 in state revenue last year.

Fish & Wildlife relies on trappers and the annual reports they must submit to better understand the state of Vermont’s fur-bearer population.

“Trappers are our eyes and ears,” Vernier said.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at


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