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2015 MN Senate hearing of SF 592: to prohibit recreational wolf trapping and snaring

posted Mar 13, 2016, 4:55 PM by Scott Slocum   [ updated Mar 15, 2016, 10:33 AM ]

This is a video excerpt of the 3/9/2015 MN Senate hearing of the wolf-trapping and snaring regulation bill SF 0592: no recreational wolf trapping, snaring, electronic calling, prey-distress calling, or hunting over bait; gross misdemeanor penalty for wolf poaching; no recreational snaring. Almost all of the debate is about snaring. Proponents focus on the potential for the effective and humane uses of snares in research, predator control, and the fur trade. Critics focus on the suffering of animals in snares.

MN Senate Subcommittee on Fish and Wildlife, Committee on Environment and Energy, 3/9/2015.

It includes testimony from Maureen Hackett of Howling for Wolves, Gary Leistico of the MN Trappers Association, and Dan Stark and John Erb of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR).

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00:02 Senator Matt Schmit, Chairman of the Subcommittee, opens the hearing of SF 592.

00:08 Senator Charles (Chuck) Wiger, the bill's author, introduces the bill

00:40 Dr. Maureen Hackett, President and Founder of Howling for Wolves, supports the bill. This bill addresses recreational trapping, snaring, and baiting--not government programs of depredation control. Non-target catches by snares are high, for example in situations where a bait pile is made and the area around it is saturated with snares. Snaring is an indiscriminate method that catches not only the intended, target animals, but also many non-target animals (ref. to a statement by Carter Niemeyer to that effect). Jellyhead is one of the horribly-painful injuries that can be caused by snares. Snares can become embedded in animals skin (ref. to letter from Peggy Farr, veterinarian and wildlife rehabilitator). Wildlife belongs to all of us. Non-target catches amplify the take of wildlife far beyond the intended targets. In a Lake Research Partners poll, 66% of respondents were opposed to the use of traps and snares for wolves, and even more were opposed to baiting and calling. 

06:12 Mr. Gary Leistico, MN Trappers Association (MTA), opposes the bill. MTA members have been lawfully and ethically trapping and snaring in Minnesota since the State was established. Wolf trapping is no different from the trapping of other animals. Modern snaring is improved over the old technology, with its use of aircraft cable and other components including stops, springs, and swivels. Snares operate better than foothold traps in MN winters. Snares are used in depredation-control trapping. He's not aware of statistics on non-target catches by snares. The selectivity of a snare depends on how and where it's set. Snares can be as selective as foothold traps. In his own trapping and snaring, there's almost no incidental catch. He's not aware of any MN incidents of "jellyhead." He's read about it, but hasn't witnessed it. The MN DNR has been recording incidents in which dogs have been caught in traps, but he hasn't seen an incident of a dog killed by a snare in those records.

Mr. Leistico states correctly that snaring technology has "improved," but he neglected to mention how. The improvements fall under two categories: 1) efficiency of catching and killing, and 2) cable-restraint technology that can be used to improve animal welfare and allow the release of incidental catches. Most trappers are interested in the former. The latter is required in Wisconsin, but not yet in Minnesota.

Mr. Leistico refers to the MN DNR "Trap Incident Reports." These are the spotty reports of incidents in which people's dogs were caught in traps, and the dogs' owners or friends reported those incidents to the MN DNR and/or the news media. The MN DNR apparently kept some records on an informal basis until 2012, when they were recorded on a more intensive basis in November and December 2012. The MN DNR stepped up its efforts in 2012 in response to that year's initiative by dog owners calling for MN regulations to protect dogs from body-gripping traps (Orrick 2012; Smith 2013). When dog owners continued their calls for regulations in subsequent years, the MN DNR began to record the incidents on a more systematic basis in the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 trapping seasons. In the 2014-2015 MN Hunting & Trapping Regulations Handbook, a new message to trappers and small-game hunters was added to the "Small Game" section under the heading "Domestic Animals": "If you find a dog in a trap, or if your dog was caught in a trap – please contact your local Conservation Officer and report the incident." Consequently, the number of trap incident reports increased that year. It should be noted that neither the report title "trap incident report" nor the message in the Handbook included the word "snare."

Mr. Leistico neglected to mention MN DNR Trap Incident Report #20-12 (the twentieth trap incident report in the calendar year 2012, among many other snaring incidents in which dogs were rescued from live-threatening situations in snares) of the death of an Airedale Terrier near Royalton, MN in a snare on 3/12/2012. The report, redacted by the MN DNR, provided very little information, not even whether the snare had been set in violation of trapping regulations. It did include a note that the trapper did not have permission to be operating on the private property where the incident occurred, but given the permissive MN allowances for trapping without permission on unposted private property, that was not necessarily a violation. Nevertheless, Mr. Leistico might have misjudged the note to be an indication that the snare had been illegally set. Mr. Leistico's informal opinion on the matter of illegal sets has apparently been that illegal sets should not be considered in the determination of trapping regulations. That's a very convenient policy for someone who has an interest in excluding as much negative information as possible.

The MN DNR does not record incidents in which animals restrained by the neck in lethal snares suffer from cerebral swelling and brain hemorrhaging (i.e. "jellyhead"). Although he did not mention them specifically, Mr. Leistico was apparently aware of reports including one that made the headlines in 2002 by a Maine DIFW biologist on the necropsies of 100 coyotes killed in snares. One third suffered from brain hemorrhaging, and another third were not killed by the snares but by the trappers after being restrained for undisclosed periods of time (legally up to seven days) in the snares (Austin 2003; Williams 2002).

08:45 Mr. Ray Sogard, MN Forest-Zone Trappers Association (MFZTA), opposes the bill. Predator control also controls the spread of disease, including mange. Humans can also suffer from mange. This is one of the services provided to society by trappers. Snares can be set selectively. Moose stops and breakaways are required on snares that are set for wolves. Snares can be constructed and set with lethal and non-lethal options. Snares are impervious to MN winter weather. Snares cause little or no damage to domestic animals that are caught incidentally, or to wild animals that are captured for research. Snare best-management practices (BMP) have been developed based on snare studies in states including WI, TN, etc. Snares provide an affordable opportunity for young trappers to get started in trapping on a low budget. Trapping is a 400 year-old tradition that the MFZTA promotes for all of its members.

There are several problems with Mr. Sogard's statement that "By controlling predators, the trapper is also controlling the spread of disease, such as mange. Although mange is a disease caused by a parasite, it in effect destroys the predator's coat, and the animal then dies of exposure. Many are unaware that humans can also suffer from this disease. Keeping this disease in check is an additional service provided by the trapper." 

This false yet commmonly-stated claim that "trapping controls the spread of disease" is based on the selective application of certain theories (and the ignorance of all the others) of density-dependent functions in population dynamics. The false reasoning is that any factor, including trapping, that would lower the density of a given population would logically result in the predictable lowering of density-dependent functions, including disease transmission. This reasoning does not necessarily hold in nature, where of course, many populations interact, and many density-dependent functions are inter-dependent. In other words, it's not that simple, and trapping is far from the only or best regulatory mechanism against the spread of disease.

11:40 Senator Chris Eaton asks the MTA and MFZTA testifiers to provide references to the snare studies they've mentioned, and to support their statements that snares can be used humanely and safely. 

Here's some information for the purposes of these notes (not necessarily what was provided by MTA, MFZTA, or MN DNR) from the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) in partial reply to Sen. Eaton's question.


The AFWA Wolf trapping BMP report (AFWA 2014) that was online as of 3/12/2016 was the "First edition, 2014." It stated that "to date, only foothold restraining traps and a power activated footsnare were used to capture wolves during BMP trap testing." It did not include any mention of neck snares.

AFWA BMPs list traps that have been "tested and meet performance standards for animal welfare, efficiency, selectivity, practicality, and safety." (AFWA 2007).
It's important to understand the limitations of the AFWA BMPs. They measure "animal welfare" in leghold traps nominally by the selectivity of the traps, but principally by the average severity of specific injuries that are caused by the traps to the animals' legs and feet. Not all injuries, only specific industries included in the testing standards. The injuries are apparently evaluated by veterinarians on the carcasses that are brought in by trappers, having been killed promptly following capture at the trap sites. Of course, the trapping injuries that would be detectable at this early stage (shortly following capture) would not include injuries that would, in nature, tend to become infected and develop into painful, disabling, and/or life-threatening conditions. The AFWA BMPs measure "animal welfare" in killing traps by time to unconsciousness. They measure "safety" by the lack of injuries to trappers (not according to animal welfare or selectivity).

12:08 Mr. Thom Peterson, MN Farmers Union, opposes the bill, supports the wolf hunting & trapping season as it is. He's concerned about controlling livestock depredation by wolves, and about providing funding for wolf-depredation compensation payments to farmers from wolf-hunting and trapping license fees.

12:53 Mr. Cory Bennett, MN Deer Hunters Association (MDHA), opposes the bill, supports the MN Wolf Management Plan, including trapping as part of the Plan.

13:17 Maureen Hackett returns to the testimony table to add information. Twenty U.S. States have effectively eliminated snaring. She had not presented the graphic examples she has of injuries caused by snares to dogs, wolves, even moose. MN DNR records on incidental trapping are incomplete; animals die unrecorded. The wolf-hunting firearms season would have been sufficient to meet the State's harvest quotas, without adding the wolf-trapping season. The wolf-trapping season was indiscriminate and harmful. You've heard it said by the trapping associations: snaring is cheaper, easier, you don't need a professional, the young guys can do it, anybody can snare. Anybody can go out and set thousands of snares, kill thousands of animals--and in the process, many thousands will go unknown. These animals belong to the public. In setting wildlife policies, we need to consider the public interest, not just the interests of those individuals who want to "take" those animals by hunting and trapping. We need to question "how many [non-target] animals does it take to get those [target] animals by trapping?"

15:03 Mr. Bob Meier, Assistant Commissioner, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR), opposes the bill. He introduces John Erb and Dan Stark.

15:25 Mr. Dan Stark, Large Carnivore Specialist, MN DNR, opposes the bill. The MN wolf-hunting and wolf-trapping season is the most highly-regulated of all the State's hunting and trapping seasons. Regulations include limits on number of licenses, number of hunters, timeframe, and harvest target. Trapping is the most efficient method of capturing or killing wolves. Capture is used in research, for example to radio-collar wolves in order to track their movements. Baiting and calling of wolves is necessary to boost success in the recreational hunting seasons; these methods are now recognized by the MN DNR as "fair chase" methods of hunting.

17:20 Dr. John Erb, Furbearer and Wolf Research Biologist, MN DNR, Grand Rapids, opposes the bill. Although snares are relatively simple devices, there are a number of components to them that allow diverse uses--both for live restraint and for killing. Snares and cable restraints are used in research on foxes, coyotes, raccoons, beavers, wolves. National Trap Research Program has tested and certified "many forms of snares for live-restraining animals" [for information to the contrary, see the note above about the limitations of published AFWA BMP testing of traps and snares on wolves]. Most of the devices that were tested met the standards [he doesn't say what those standards were: again, please refer to the note about the AFWA BMPs above]. Subject animals were fully examined by necropsy by veterinarians following testing. There's a significant amount of data on the use of live restraints. Less information is available for killing snares. "A snare is not a snare:" there's a lot of diversity in how they can be used. Snares can be set selectively, depending on which options are used, including options for live-restraint and for killing. MN trapping regulations require daily trap checking for restraining-type traps, 3-day check for killing-type traps or drowning sets.

Note that both Mr. Stark and Dr. Erb addressed only the potential for what can be done effectively and humanely with snares, and most of that with cable restraints.

19:51 Sen. Eaton comments that, although she understands that it's legal and effective to snare and trap animals, she questions whether it's ethical. She challenges the distinction between how we, as a society, treat our domestic pets vs. how we treat our wildlife.

20:20 Sen. Wiger reminds the subcommittee that the bill would not affect the MN Predator Control Program or the wildlife-removal operations that are allowed under it. 

21:07 John Erb reiterates that the bill would prevent the use of snares by private trappers, even those who operate their snares humanely and selectively.

21:41 Mr. Jeffrey Wiles, resident of Coon Rapids, MN, supports the bill. He specifies that his comment is limited to the practice of recreational snaring. He emphasizes the quote on the Howling for Wolves fact sheet from Carter Niemeyer about the danger and lack of selectivity of snares. He notes that those dangers are a concern both for pets and wildlife.

22:23 Sen. Schmit concludes the hearing of SF 592. The bill will be laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus Game & Fish Bill, SF 1303.

22:33 End of video excerpt.

References

AFWA. 2007. "Best Management Practices (BMP) for Trapping in the United States." Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA). 

AFWA. 2014. "BMPs for Trapping Wolves in the U.S." Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies. 

Austin, Phyllis. 2003. "Maine IF&W Biologist Critical of Coyote Snaring, Slated for Demotion." Maine Environmental News. March 11. 

Orrick, Dave. 2012. "Will Minnesota's New Trapping Rules Mean Fewer Dog Deaths?" Pioneer Press, October 20. 

Smith, Doug. 2013. "Number of Dogs Killed by Traps Concerns Owners." Star Tribune, January 15. 

Williams, Ted. 2002. "Maine's War on Coyotes." Audubon. September 1. 



Maureen Hackett, Howling for Wolves, testifying in support of SF 592.
Maureen Hackett, Howling for Wolves, testifying in support of SF 592: to prohibit wolf trapping, snaring, etc.