MSPCA Position: Oppose
Sponsors: Senator Anne Gobi (S. 492), Representative Paul Frost (H. 799), Representative William Straus (H. 911)
Status: Referred to Joint Committee on Environment and Natural Resources; hearing held November 29, 2023. (Watch the hearing.)
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 rejected in 1996 when they voted in favor of a ballot initiative known as the Wildlife Protection Act. More recently, a 2022 survey found that more than half of Massachusetts voters oppose weakening current restrictions on trapping.
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.
Oppose S. 492, An Act conserving our natural resources (Senator Gobi)
This bill would strike a portion of the Wildlife Protection Act to allow various local, state, and federal agencies to use restricted Conibear traps, prohibited snares, and other traps. The bill would allow use of these traps broadly—for wildlife management during the recreational trapping season (as permitted by the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife), for research, and for other reasons. The bill would also allow the use of so-called “dog-proof” traps or devices “designed not to harm animals.” These devices are still body-gripping devices that compromise the welfare of a trapped animal in a manner very similar to the already-prohibited devices. While they are marketed as “humane,” this does not necessarily mean that they are humane—a critical distinction. The MSPCA opposes the use of snares because they are inherently non-specific and inhumane, both for target and non-target animals. These devices are so cruel that their use has in fact been prohibited in Massachusetts since the 1960s, pre-dating the Wildlife Protection Act. Importantly, current law effectively allows the use of alternatives to these devices. Box and cage traps are used successfully for studying animals, such as coyote, and are an effective means of trapping wildlife. Wildlife research and management should move forward, not backward. Consequently, research should utilize humane and non-invasive tools, not archaic devices (or modernized versions thereof) that cause stress, injury, and sometimes death of captured animals.
Oppose H. 799, An Act relative to beavers (Representative Frost)
This bill would repeal the entire Wildlife Protection Act, Ch. 131 §80A. In doing so, this bill would revert Massachusetts law not just to what it was prior to 1996, but it would also remove even the minimal restrictions that existed before that time. This move would be a significant step backward for the Commonwealth—to a time when archaic trapping devices were used recreationally on land and not only inflicted immense suffering on our wildlife, but also threatened the lives and safety of our companion animals.
Oppose H. 911, An Act authorizing permitting by the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game (Representative Straus)
This bill would allow “quick kill traps,” an undefined term. A reasonable interpretation would suggest this includes Conibear traps or snares as many trappers (errantly) refer to these traps in this manner. In a study published in Canadian Trapper, the official publication of the Ontario Trappers Association, Milan Novak, Supervisor of the Fur Management Unit for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, reported that “the most significant conclusion was that the standard Mohawk and Conibear traps did not kill the test animals instantly as originally supposed.” This bill also requires MassWildlife to establish regulations based on the so-called “Best Management Practices” (BMPs), which would allow for land trapping with snares and body-gripping traps, an inhumane practice made illegal in Massachusetts many decades ago. Further, this bill retains a reference to reporting “animal problem plans,” but removes the language in the current law requiring the development of a plan to abate the animal problem using alternative, nonlethal management techniques where possible, and if necessary, box and cage type-traps in order to provide a long-term solution.