A number of bills are filed each session that remove or weaken current restrictions on cruel body-gripping Conibear and leghold (sometimes called foot-hold) traps which are used to capture fur-bearing animals, such as beaver and coyote. These changes would effectively allow a return to the days of recreational trapping with these inhumane and indiscriminate devices, something that 64% of Massachusetts voters decried in 1996 when they voted in favor of a ballot initiative known as the Wildlife Protection Act.
Read about different kinds of traps, and myths and facts associated with them. These traps can catch any animal, wild or domestic, who walks or swims into them, causing intense suffering and death. The MSPCA opposes legislation that would expand trapping in Massachusetts.
The bills filed this session take a variety of approaches, but the result of the passage of any of them would effectively be a return to the days of recreational trapping with inhumane and indiscriminate devices, practices that 64% of Massachusetts voters rejected when they passed the 1996 Wildlife Protection Act ballot question.
Background of the current trapping law:
In 1996, 64% percent of the voters in Massachusetts declared their opposition to the use of body-gripping traps for capturing fur-bearing mammals by voting in favor of the Wildlife Protection Act. In 2000, the legislature made revisions to the law, with negotiations centering around allowing reasonable exceptions in order to facilitate solutions to damage caused by beavers and muskrats, while still retaining the intent of the ballot initiative. Specifically, these changes moved some control from the state to the local level in order to expedite the permitting process in cases of threats to health and safety.
Key reasons that changes to the current law are unnecessary:
- Lethal traps, while restricted, are still allowed under current law in (1) situations involving public safety and health issues, or (2) when humane options don’t work. The use of these devices is limited because they put pets and other animals at risk. An expansion of trapping beyond what is currently allowed is not necessary.
- Trapping does not reduce human-beaver conflicts. When resident beavers are removed from good habitat via trapping, other beavers promptly move in, and the cycle begins again.
- Flow devices do resolve beaver-related flooding, are highly effective, and save taxpayers money. The city of Billerica, for example, has used flow devices rather than trapping whenever possible over the past 19 years, and as a result has saved its taxpayers roughly $7,700 a year, or over $146,000 total. Billerica’s few trapping management sites cost nearly 80% more each than its non-trapping sites. Further, by maintaining an appropriately-sized beaver population, Billerica has benefited from this keystone species in the amount of roughly $2 million a year in ecological services (e.g., water cleaning, the maintenance of wetlands that host endangered and other keystone species, etc.), or over $35 million since the inception of the program.
- Beaver populations stabilize without trapping, whereas trapping may actually stimulate the growth of the beaver population. Findings from multiple scientific studies conducted at the Quabbin Reservoir illustrate that beaver populations slowly increase, reach a peak, then decline and ultimately stabilize in proportion to available habitat and food supply. Trapping has never controlled the beaver population in Massachusetts, which was in fact increasing before the passage of the Wildlife Protection Act in 1996, despite the lack of restrictions on recreational trapping.
- Body-gripping traps cause intense suffering. Non-target animals—other wildlife or companion animals—can easily be unintentionally caught in these devices. In recent years cats were caught in traps in both Sandwich and Medfield, and dogs in several other locations. All animals caught in these devices, whether set underwater or on land, can suffer for long periods before dying.
The MSPCA opposes any change to the current law that would reduce the use of non-lethal solutions as a means to resolve conflicts with animals. Such changes are unnecessary—they would not result in less beaver-related flooding or a reduced beaver population—and would be contrary to the intent of the ballot question.