Testimony of Castleton resident whose dog, Gus was captured in a body-gripping trap on October 4, 2023.

Vermont Wolf Patrol was one of the eight wildlife advocacy groups on October 5, 2023, listening to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department’s presentation to the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (LCAR) on proposed changes to trapping rules, when unbeknownst to committee members, the day before, another dog had fallen victim to a body-gripping trap in Vermont. The Department’s legal counsel, Catherine Gjessing spoke to the minimal risk posed to pets and humans by Vermont’s estimated 300 licensed trappers at LCAR’s hearing to review proposed changes, which fell far short of the legislative mandate of Act 159 which states:

This act requires the Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife to submit to the General Assembly recommended best management practices (BMPs) for trapping that propose criteria and equipment designed to modernize trapping and improve the welfare of animals subject to trapping programs. The BMPs shall be based on investigation and research conducted by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and shall use the “Best Management Practices for Trapping in the United States” issued by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies as the minimum standards for BMP development. After submission of the BMPs, the act requires the Fish and Wildlife Board to revise the rules regulating the trapping of furbearing animals in the State so that the rules are at least as stringent as the BMPs for trapping recommended by the Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife.

A large complaint of LCAR committee members was the failure to include setbacks for trappers on public trails on Vermont’s 100 Wildlife Management Areas, parks and even playgrounds and other places where people are expected to recreate. Department staff responded to the complaints with a proposal to return to LCAR on October 19, 2023 after the Department has had a chance to make improvements to the proposed minimal setbacks and take them to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board for approval and a vote on October 18, 2023.

Watch Vermont legislatures question the Fish & Wildlife Department’s failure to meet the legislative mandate of Act 159.

Meanwhile, On October 3, 2023 a woman was walking with her dog on a path regularly used by students and staff on the Castleton University campus when her German shepherd, Gus ran towards the edge of a pond on campus where they normally played. Only this time, the dog began howling and the owner realized they had been caught in something metal. Over 200 yards away, university employees at a baseball field heard the dogs cries and came running to help. After more than twenty minutes, three people were able to remove the body-gripping trap from the dogs front leg which suffered a fracture and other injuries that required veterinary attention. This body-gripping trap set for “nuisance” beavers was just seven feet off a university trail.

Red arrow denotes trap location.

The trap had been set a day before by a trapper referred to the University by a Vermont Fish & Wildlife warden. The University was responding to long-term problems with a manmade dam on a pond surrounded by public trails. At least three beavers had already been trapped using similar body-gripping “kill” traps which are known to take up to five minutes to kill beavers and other aquatic animals. Traps for beaver are commonly set immediately off of roads and culverts where beavers are active and near beaver dams. The trap that caught the 100-pound pet was a 330 body-grip trap that was set on the pond’s edge in inches of water.

The 330 body-grip trap is commonly used in Vermont to catch beaver. This one caught Gus.

Vermont Wolf Patrol and Animal Wellness Action’s Bob Galvin drove to Castleton, Vermont on October 6th to meet with Gus’ owner and hear firsthand what had happened. According to the local resident, beavers have complicated existing problems with a manmade dam on the college campus and it was recommended that a nuisance trapper be brought in to trap the animals. It isn’t yet known when exactly the trapping began, but by the end of the day on October 5th, all the traps had been removed and Vermont Fish & Wildlife wardens were investigating the incident.

The warden’s report on the Castleton incident.

Recent nuisance trapping for beavers in Castleton and West Pawlet has seen deadly body-gripping traps being set just feet off of trails regularly used by dog walkers. These “drowning sets” are intended to catch beavers who are either crushed in the body-grip trap, or drown when the trap drags them underwater. The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department (VFW) is recommending changes to current trapping practices, as directed by the Legislature in Act 159 which seeks to reduce the incidents of domestic pet captures and reduce the level of suffering experienced by wildlife caught in Vermont traps. The Green Mountain state boasts a population of approximately 300 active recreational trappers. Last year, fifteen pets were accidentally caught in traps, the three that died were caught in body-gripping traps. There are no recommended changes from VFW in the placement of traps in the water and the current recommended setback of 100 feet from public trails would not apply to both nuisance trappers or trappers who place traps in the water, which is the most common form of trapping in Vermont, usually for beaver and muskrat.

In December 2022, this small dog was killed in a body-gripping trap while walking with her owner in Corinth.

It was just one week ago on September 30, 2023, when Vermont Wolf Patrol was less than an hour away in West Pawlet, where Vtrans trappers had placed five traps including three body-gripping traps less than fifty feet off the D&H Rail Trail which is also regularly used by dog walkers. This latest incident illustrates the very real danger body-gripping traps continue to pose to pets in Vermont, especially those placed in the water which are currently exempt from any Act 159 improvements, despite many public comments asking for them to be included in any changes to trapping practices. Instead, there are limited restrictions being placed on some body-gripping traps placed on land, but no proposed changes to the practice of placing traps immediately off of roads and trails in the water. Again, the beaver trap in Castleton was just seven feet off the trail.

Testimonies begin at 9:45

Vermont’s Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (LCAR) is continuing to review VFW’s recommended changes to trapping and coyote hound hunting rules, having held a public hearing on October 5th, just two days after the Castleton trapping incident. At the hearing, VFW Legal Counsel, Catherine Gjessing testified about the “low-risk” trapping poses to people and pets in Vermont, incorrectly citing that one of the dogs killed in a body-gripping trap in 2022, was caught in an illegal trap. Vermont Wildlife Patrol provided LCAR with the VFW warden’s report for the trapping incident in Underhill last October, where a woman’s dog was killed in a legally set body-gripping trap. At the October 19th LCAR hearing, Gjessing again presented on the trapping and hounding proposals and the committee received testimony from 39 individuals including two of the women who’s dog’s have now been caught recently in body-gripping traps.

The next LCAR hearing on trapping and coyote hound hunting rules will be on November 2, 2023. The following is the recorded hearing from the October 5 & 19, 2023 LCAR session where Vermont Fish & Wildlife legal counsel defended the recommended changes and Vermont Wildlife Patrol testified about the failed “Best Management Practices” testing of the 220 body-gripping trap and its inability to kill fishers in the required five minute threshold for BMP kill traps.

Gus, a lucky survivor of a lethal body-gripping trap most commonly set for beaver in Vermont.

Concerned Vermonters should contact their representatives and let them know that Act 159 does not go far enough to limit the dangers posed to pets and people by some of the most common trapping practices in Vermont. According to Vermont Fish & Wildlife law enforcement, beaver and muskrat trapping, in the water, is the most common form of trapping in the state, often occurring in culverts just feet off roads and trails.

Vermonters! Find Your Representatives!


Vermont’s Department of Transportation (VTrans) continues to use deadly force to address conflicts with beavers on the D&H Rail Trail outside West Pawlet, despite citizen efforts to convince the public agency to install a non-lethal alternative such as a beaver deceiver or pond leveler. On September 30, 2023 Vermont Wildlife Patrol came to document dog walkers using the trail, just 20 feet from the traps and record testimony on the failure of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department to propose adequate reductions in the level of suffering experience by animals trapped in Vermont.

We believe the exclusion of body-gripping traps and drowning sets in any recommended trapping changes currently before the Legislature fails the legal mandate of Act 159. At the West Pawlet trap site, five traps could easily be seen strewn across the small beaver pond which runs under the D&H Trail. Three body-gripping traps were set in the water and two foothold traps could plainly be seen on the bank of the pond, easily within reach of the the many dogs using the trail. Vermont Wildlife Patrol spoke to three separate groups of dog walkers who regularly use the trail and all were unaware of the nearby vicinity of the killing and restraining traps. No signage is used by VTrans when trapping immediately off of roads and trails.

Your Tax Dollars At Work…VTrans Costs from trapping and dam removal in West Pawlet (less than one year)

We are asking concerned Vermonters to contact VTrans Secretary, Joe Flynn and request that lethal beaver removal cease on the D&H Trail, and that agency funds be responsibly spent on long-term non-lethal alternatives, rather that wasting taxpayer dollars on dam removal and trapping

Contact Secretary Joe Flynn:

Email: joe.flynn@vermont.gov

Phone: (802) 476-2690

17th Century Dutch fur traders bartering with indigenous Americans for now extinct eastern buffalo hides.

I moved to Vermont in 2019 and live on land that is home to moose, bear, coyote, bobcat and until recently, beaver. I am a caretaker of these wild and wetlands. I am also a descendent from the Yoeme Nation, (more commonly known as Yaqui Tribe). I would like to speak to the heated debate about trapping in Vermont, and the history of the fur trade in New England. Last October, when a trapper hired by the Agency of Transportation (VTrans) came onto our lands and killed every beaver in the colony we share our land with, I learned that in Vermont it is legal to use body-gripping and foothold traps to drown beaver, otter, mink, muskrat in all waterways including our protected lands. I also discovered that the trapper hired by VTrans was cited in 2022 for taking a fisher out of season when the injured animal was discovered on a snowmobile trail with a body-gripping trap crushing its mouth and head. 

Like a lot of indigenous people, I did not grow up in my own culture, with my own language or in my homelands, but I was still always taught to respect nature and animals. I have lived on our reservation in Arizona, learned from my elders, participated in ceremonies and been blessed to know many of this country’s traditional indigenous elders. The first time I participated in a traditional ceremony, I heard Lakota elders praying to animals and plants as well as to our human ancestors. In the years since, I have been fortunate to experience indigenous ceremonies that were once illegal in this country because they represented a worldview that saw animals as our sacred relations.

16th Century carving of a black bear by Pawtucket artist, name once known. This bear may have been created just before European settlers arrived in present-day Salem, Massachusetts displacing the Pawtucket already living there.

What my culture has taught me is despite centuries of persecution, indigenous people today remain a proud distinct people with a worldview that places animals, plants, rivers, forests and people in the same circle. We are all related. My elder, Anselmo Valencia Tori, spoke to animals and spirits. He used to say that when he was my age, their voices were much louder. Albert White Hat was a Sicangu Lakota elder I knew who spoke of the time when animals and humans were more closely related. His ancestors fought a war to save the buffalo. He used to say when humans are ready to live in harmony again with all life around us, animals that we thought were gone forever, like the wolf, will begin to return. I am one of the many people who are ready to live in such peaceful coexistence with the natural world of these once and still sacred lands. 

A bit of history. By the early 17th Century, Europeans had decimated their native furbearer populations and needed a new source for their exploding fur market. The fur trade turned to North America and thus began centuries of violence against the indigenous inhabitants and native furbearer populations. Entire indigenous nations were wiped out or forced to assimilate into other tribes and colonial life, all because of the economic demands of the fur trade. In 1620 Samuel de Champlain listed, “bufles (buffalo) moose and elk” as important resources in New France. By the time of the first European settlement in Vermont in the mid-18th Century, many species were already near extinct because of the fur trade. Other non-furbearer native species to Vermont like Bison, Caribou and elk would soon be wiped out in the early colonial period. Beavers would be gone by the 1850’s.

Gone but not forgotten. The last reported elk in Vermont was one that was killed in Concord in 1908.

The first wave of European fur traders in North America also brought diseases that literally wiped out entire villages in what is today New England. A Smallpox epidemic introduced by a Dutch fur trader in 1633 left a community of 1,000 with only 50 survivors. Before the epidemic ended, a number of tribes had lost their individual identities in the land we now call Massachusetts. Remnant indigenous survivors were quick to join the fur trade, not because they wanted to, but because it was the only way to survive. Without the stability of pre-contact communal life, many indigenous people became trappers to obtain the guns, powder and metal tools they needed for survival and subsequent warfare as tribes fought for the control of lands to exploit for fur. 

For almost the entire 17th Century, the French, English, Dutch colonists and indigenous nations fought violently for control of the new fur trade from New England to the Ohio Valley. It was even called the Beaver Wars, though most of us know it as “The French & Indian War.” I am opposed to the commercial fur trade, not because I am an animal rights activist, but because as an indigenous person today, the fur trade and trapping still represents a historic institution of colonization and assimilation that continues today with our government’s support. That kind of support is clear and abundant when Vermont Fish & Wildlife (VFW) defends its partnership with trappers today while at the same time distancing itself from the bloody history of the commercial fur trade in North America.

Massacre of the Pequots when over 500 mostly women and children were burned in their village by Connecticut colonists in 1637.

In January 2023, Paul Noel, a vocal trapper and member of the Vermont Trappers Association wrote a commentary describing trapping as, “The ecological understanding and reverence that we feel is enhanced by direct experience with the natural world, and lessened by the lack thereof. Trapping, hunting and other consumptive activities provide a historical conduit to that world. That ancient, indigenous wisdom should remain intact.” Noel was appointed to the Fish & Wildlife Board in March 2023. Another trapper, Marty Van Buren was recently re-appointed to a six year term on the Fish & Wildlife Board as the agency begins the rule making process for Vermont’s new trapping rules. The true indigenous wisdom of the Abenaki people is being ignored by institutions like the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, in favor of the colonial worldview that now posits that trappers are “citizen scientists” who love wildlife more than anyone only wildlife advocates are too uneducated to understand.

Promoting trapping as a way to live harmoniously with nature becomes a false narrative when it implies itself to be part of indigenous wisdom. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word indigenous as; “originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native.” and “(of people) inhabiting or existing in a land from the earliest times or from before the arrival of colonists.” While North American indigenous peoples have always used hides and fur for clothing and shelter, the way we lived with wildlife before the introduction by early Europeans of disease and the commodification of our animal relations compares not at all to the commercial exploitation of furbearer species on this continent by trappers and the fur trade. Early indigenous communities in present-day New England practiced conservation using closed seasons on hunting, cultivation of grasses and controlled burning to improve habitat for elk, deer and other animals. What European trappers did to New England and the entirety of North America by eradicating literally hundreds of millions of wetland creating beavers was an ecological catastrophe.

Slide from 2023 Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department presentation.

In a February 2023 commentary, Mike Covey of the trapping lobbyist group, Vermont Traditions Coalition, which proclaims to be, “Representing Vermont’s Original Conservationists and Environmentalists” wrote, “In a time where we are striving to reach a standard of inclusivity, the only thing we should be legislating against in Vermont is hypocrisy and hate, not a healthy self-sufficiency in harmony with the renewable life cycle of nature.” Covey present’s Vermont’s 300 licensed active trappers as an oppressed minority and equivocal to victims of hate. The minority defense is part of the narrative promoted by the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) and Vermont Fish & Wildlife. AFWA staff regularly work with member agencies, including the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Furbearer Management Team, and have developed a strategic plan for effective communication about regulated trapping and furbearer management. Here is a passage from AFWA’s “Regulated Trapping and the North American Conservation Model”: 

In the United States, Jeffersonian democracy protects the rights of minorities against the tyranny of the majority who may wish to impose their will and standards. Within the public, furbearer trappers, and hunters, are a minority group…their opportunities to access wildlife that is allocated by law should be protected if we are truly a free people.” 

When I hear trappers claiming to be an oppressed people, I hear the continuing perpetuation of a historical hypocrisy and hate by the same colonial forces responsible for destroying our way of life they now claim was their own. Trappers in the bygone era did not live in harmony with nature, they were responsible for the extinction of both humans and animals. The minority experience in America is a long history of violence directed against other Americans based on their race, religion or beliefs. Global opposition to the inherent cruelty associated with trapping and the fur trade has led to its steady decline. Simply because a few hundred people in Vermont cling to this practice does not make them minorities or oppressed. Another misrepresentation promoted by VFW is that “regulated” trapping is not responsible for the wrongs of the fur trade in past centuries yet, Vermont’s trappers still claim trapping as a centuries old tradition. 

Lastly, I want to draw attention to the current legal methods for trapping fisher and beaver in Vermont. I am citing a published research paper on tests conducted on live fishers at the Fur Institute of Canada’s research facility in Alberta in 1997. Best Management Practices (BMPs) for trapping were first created by the international fur industry itself, in response to the 1991 European Union’s ban on the importation of fur from animals caught with inhumane traps. Since then, there have been ongoing experiments in Canada supported by AFWA & VFW where anesthetized animals are placed in body-gripping kill traps to test if they are killed within 5 minutes in 70% of the tests, as required to meet trapping BMP standards.

Canadian researchers concluded that some body-grip traps currently in use in Vermont, “failed to render irreversibly unconscious in 3 min. Fishers single-struck in the head-neck region, or double struck in the neck and thorax regions. Although the Conibear 220 trap is often recommended as an alternative to the steel leghold trap, it is unlikely that it has the potential to humanely kill fisher.” Yet this trap will still be legal to trap fisher in Vermont under the new Best Management Practices. Included in VFW’s January 2023 report to the Vermont Legislature is a request to allocate $300-400,000 to reimburse the costs to Vermont’s trappers for new BMP traps that will still kill inhumanely. 

Trap research experiments conducted, not to save lives, but in order to refine killing methods to produce a fur garment, are not what I want one cent of my taxes to pay for. The live fishers used in these experiments are fully conscious when they are placed in these traps, they have only been immobilized with Ketamine which is a paralytic not anesthesia. Like a lot of people fortunate enough to live in the forests of Vermont, I have grown a special kinship to my nonhuman neighbors. I’ve seen moose, bear and fisher all raising their young on this land that owns me. I have also met trappers who are good people and believe some to be true naturalists and ecologists, but as in any practice, there are those who don’t follow the rules, like the 30% of licensed Vermont trappers who fail to return mandatory kill surveys according to VFW records. 

1991 news article on underwater trap researcher, Fred Gilbert whose drowning experiments on beaver, otter and mink drew national attention.

So when I hear Vermont’s trappers talk about their traditions and not wanting to change, I remember the trauma indigenous peoples have suffered for centuries for simply wanting to survive and honor their own traditions. I think of the herds of bison, elk and caribou that once existed and that I’ll never see because of the rapacious behavior of the fur trade and early colonists. In order to co-exist with our ever-growing neighbors, we must all be willing to change and evolve towards a more peaceful way of living with everyone around us. After four centuries, the fur trade continues to violently impact my life and the lives of our animal relations in “New England.” Vermont’s furbearer are more important than the data collected from their carcasses and the money still paid for their pelts on the open fur market. It’s time to put trapping in the history books and move towards more nonlethal and peaceful solutions to conflicts with the wildlife and people around us. 

Mink crossing a Vermont beaver dam, April 22, 2023

In recent years there has been an increase in the number of illegal operations marketing in black bear parts, especially gallbladders. The illicit trade in black bear parts is a decades long global problem that is responsible for the decimation of Asiatic black bear and is increasingly targeting North American black bears.

Bears throughout the world are exploited for the bile found in their gallbladders, which is considered a prized ingredient in some forms of traditional Chinese medicine. Asiatic black bears in China, South Korea, and Vietnam also suffer on bile farms, where they are kept in small cages and painfully “milked” for their bile for the duration of their lives. Wild bears have also been targeted, as their bile is considered more potent. As a result, American black bears, whose population is still healthy, are the new target of both legal and illegal hunting and trade of their parts.

Black bear paws confiscated recently in anti-poaching investigation in Canada.

“We do not subscribe to the commercialization of wildlife because it eventually leads to an unlawful activity. The drain on wildlife resources because of all the various markets and demands for either wildlife or parts is tremendous. We would support a law banning the commercialization of black bear parts and any other law that addresses the unlawful traffic in wildlife.” J.R. Fagan, Director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission Bureau of Law Enforcement

Between 1997-2006 the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department (VFW) said it would establish a monitoring and tagging program for the sale of all bear parts to evaluate sale levels. After VFW conducted a survey of successful bear hunters that indicated that, “bear hunters fully utilized harvested bears” VFW concluded that the sale of gallbladders was found to be insignificant and not a threat to the state’s healthy bear population. The department also said a tagging and monitoring program was not necessary.

Although the sale of gallbladders has been deemed to be insignificant, the agency however stated, “The Department will continue to monitor the sale of black bear parts. If trends and activity in the sale of bear parts, particularly gallbladders, is found to be detrimental to Vermont’s bear population or pose a threat to bear populations in other parts of the world, it may propose further regulation or prohibition of such sales.”

According to the U.S. Justice Department and Canadian news reports, the illegal trade in black bear gallbladders and other parts continues to be a problem made no easier by the legal allowance of bear part sales by a handful of states including Vermont. Such allowances create a legal conduit for the trafficking of illegally obtained bear gallbladders. Keep in mind that there is no tagging or labeling system that would differentiation between legal and illegal gallbladders or other parts. While it would be illegal to transport any bear to a state where commerce in bear parts is allowed, this is virtually impossible for law enforcement officials to prove. 

Seized black bear gallbladders in Quebec.

The impossibility of distinguishing the gallbladder of a California black bear from an Idaho black bear, or any other state’s bear population enables smugglers to acquire gallbladders illegally in one state, transport them to a state where commercialization of bear parts is legal, and sell the gallbladders under false pretenses. Even wildlife enforcement officials in states which allow trade of bear parts (such as Idaho) recognize the deleterious impact such legal trade may have on other states’ law enforcement efforts and bear populations. Ray Lyon, Enforcement Assistant Chief for Special Operations in Idaho’s Fish and Game department, acknowledges that “Idaho is one of the states that still allows the sale of bear and other animal parts. We realize that there is some illegal killing of bears promoted by our laws.”

In the United States, a patchwork of state laws governing bear part sales exists. Currently, thirty-three states prohibit commercialization of bear gallbladders, while a small minority of states including Vermont, allow unfettered trade. The remainder either allow selling or buying galls if they come from bears killed in another state or have no such laws because of no black bear population.

Please join Vermont Wildlife Patrol in our current effort to prohibit the sale of black bear gallbladders in Vermont. We are asking supporters to respectfully request that Commissioner Christopher Herrick recommend to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board that the sale in black bear internal organs be prohibited.

Email for Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, Commissioner Christopher Herrick:


“The poaching of bears is a national problem that is destined to become worse, and I believe that we have a real opportunity, if we act now, to protect the bear populations in this country from individuals seeking to profit from the slaughter and sale of the organs of these magnificent animals.” US Senator Mitch McConnell

For More Information on the illegal black bear trade:





Vermont Trappers Association annual auction where furs from trapped animals are sold.

With all due respect, I would like to respond to Brehan Furfey’s (furbearer project leader for the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department) characterization of regulated trapping in Vermont as a necessary wildlife management tool. (see article below) I am a lifelong wildlife advocate and since 2014, I’ve investigated human conflicts with wolves in Wisconsin. For the last four years I have lived in Vermont where I am the caretaker for a large botanical sanctuary and 250 acre private wetland in Central Vermont.

Last October, I discovered a trapper hired by VTrans placing body-gripping and foothold traps on the wetlands that I manage. I had recently legally posted the property closed to hunting and trapping at the landowner’s request. VTrans and my local warden cited a legal right of way that allowed trapping up to 200 feet inside of an otherwise protected wetland. All the beaver in our protected wetlands have been trapped out by the state’s contracted trappers.

When I requested records from VTrans related to their statewide nuisance trapping program, I learned that the agency contracts with trappers like the one I found placing traps, who also was cited by wardens in 2022 for illegally taking a fisher out of season. The animal was found alive on a snowmobile trail with a body-gripping trap on its head that had crushed its jaw. In May 2022, the same trapper caught an otter out of season in a body-gripping trap while targeting beaver for VTrans in northern Vermont. In September, they caught another otter accidentally before coming to our wetlands and killing one beaver kit. Who knows just how many non-target animals this trapper actually caught, since all the data is based on self reporting?

Tools of the fur trade: body-gripping traps in a Vermont Department of Transportation (VTRANS) contract trapper’s truck.

Vermont Fish & Wildlife is currently adopting new trapping rules that it argues improve animal welfare and I’ve attended Fish & Wildlife Board meetings where VFW Commissioner Christopher Herrick has called any and all critics of VFW’s proposed trapping rule changes uneducated. The Department’s broad support for trapping has made the furbearer department a public relations extension for trapping and the commercial fur trade. Due to global opposition to the cruelty inherent with trapping, since the 1990’s the fur trade has been fighting for its own economic survival with efforts to convince the public that trapping is humane and actually helps the wildlife it kills, which of course can then be sold on the international fur market.

“Regulated” trapping is the only practice in Vermont where it is legal to kill public trust wildlife and sell it. Regulated trappers are allowed to trap all year “in defense of property” and in the regular October-March trapping season there are no limits on the number of traps a trapper can use or limits on the number of beaver, otter, fisher, mink, bobcat, coyote, raccoon, fox, weasel,muskrat or skunk a trapper can kill. Hardly regulated.

Since 2018, it has been mandatory for Vermont’s licensed trappers to report their kill and provide carcasses of some animals. Furhey says the state owes much of its furbearer conservation success to this data collected from the regulated trapping season saying, “there is no alternative way to gather these valuable samples for research and monitoring.”

While VFW’s furbearer department argues that trapper harvest data is the most important source of information available for wildlife monitoring, at the March 15, 2023 Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board meeting which I attended, VFW furbearer biologist, Katherina Gieder cited other data sources such as remote cameras, deer hunter sightings, public reports, roadkill and research studies. “Because you really do have to try to rely on a broad range of information for managing such a broad species.” In Wisconsin and other states, nonlethal hair traps also provide valuable DNA on furbearers like marten.

Underwater foothold trap set for beaver by VTrans trapper in October 2022, Orange, Vermont.

Another fault with trappers as the state’s biological data collectors is the fact that according to records recently provided by VFW, up to 30% of Vermont’s licensed trappers are out of compliance for failing to return trapper surveys. For the 2020-21 regulated trapping season for example, only 72% of the state’s regular licensed trappers returned their mandatory surveys.

Furhey also claims that regulated trapping was banned in Massachusetts in 1996 leading to a beaver population explosion. Yet, it wasn’t all regulated trapping that was banned in Massachusetts, only the use of foothold, body-gripping traps and snares. After adjusting to the change, the state’s Division of Fisheries & Wildlife has established a better nuisance trapping licensing system and now uses more nonlethal measures to address beaver and other wildlife conflicts.

Furhey also cites increased costs to towns and highway departments (like VTrans) in Massachusettes due to the limited trapping ban, arguing that employing lethal trapping saves money. Yet, according to records recently obtained from VTrans, the agency spends far more on trapping than the figures cited by Furhey. In January 2023 alone, VTrans paid one trapper $2,236.99 to trap four beavers on the D&H Rail Trail in West Pawlet, Vermont. The agency also paid $3,848 during the same month to remove beaver debris. Those costs alone could have coveredthe costs of a long-term non-lethal solution such as the installation of a beaver deception device.

Furhey also states that VFW, “drew from peer-reviewed research to identify ways to make trapping safer and more humane.” But when you review the department’s recommended trapping changes, there are no restrictions on the use of Conibear body-gripping traps that research has determined are ineffective at killing fishers within the required 5 minutes to classify as a “Best Management Practices” approved trap.

Vermont Fish & Wildlife slide from public presentation on proposed trapping “Best Management Practices.”

In addition, research findings published by the Association Of Fish & Wildlife Agencies and included in the minutes of the April 5, 2023 Fish & Wildlife Board meeting detail body-gripping traps sometimes taking up to nine minutes to kill beaver in laboratory tests where anesthetized animals are placed in traps. These are the kinds of experiments Vermont Fish & Wildlife claim are necessary in order to make regulated trapping more humane.

Lastly, Furhey says new trapping rules will, “create a 25 ft – 50 ft. safety buffer between public roads, trails on most state lands, and the places where most traps can be set.” In reality, this rule will not apply to national forest lands, Vermont’s 100 Wildlife Management Areas and privately owned trail systems nor does it cover the use of underwater body-gripping traps and foothold traps used as drowning sets which can still be placed only feet off of trails as they are used along the D&H Rail Trail in West Pawlet and on my own property by VTrans.

To add insult to injury, Vermont’s trappers are asking the public to cover the costs of purchasing “new and improved” BMP traps including body-gripping traps that take minutes to kill their victims. In their report to the Legislature VFW says those costs will be $300-$400,000.

Vermont Fish & Wildlife’s endorsement of trapping serves the interests of less than .05% of the state’s population while ignoring the over 68% percent of residents opposed to recreational trapping according to VFW’s own surveys. The public was told by VFW that those surveys would guide the future direction of the furbearer program.

Instead Vermonters should look at the recent appointment of two trappers to the state’s Fish & Wildlife Board by Governor Phil Scott, as an indicator of the true direction of our public wildlife agency whose mission it is to protect wildlife for ALL the people of Vermont, not only those profiting from its death.

I am more than just my fur…

Wildlife Conservation Depends on Regulated Trapping

Brehan Furfey is a wildlife biologist and the furbearer project leader for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.

Wildlife conservation is complicated. In Vermont, that complexity is front and center in recent conversations around regulated trapping. Although this topic deserves Vermonters’ careful consideration, I worry that some are losing sight of the conservation benefits that regulated trapping provides.

I am Vermont’s new state furbearer biologist. I earned my master’s degree in biology at Arkansas State University, and I have worked on complex conservation issues across the country, most recently with wolves in Oregon. In each case I have seen knee-jerk reactions overshadow the nuances of effective conservation, often to the detriment of wildlife. I see the same trend playing out, again, as Vermonters argue about trapping without seeing the full picture.

I want to be clear: even if it seems counterintuitive, regulated trapping is a critical wildlife management tool that benefits furbearer populations.

Vermont is at the cutting edge of furbearer conservation. Species like bobcat, mink, and Eastern coyote thrive on this landscape, and populations of every species that is trapped in our state are healthy and abundant. Vermont owes much of that conservation success to data collected during our regulated trapping seasons.

Despite the clear intent of the NAMWC being the elimination of the commercial sale of wildlife, agencies like Vermont Fish & Wildlife insist the sale of fur from trapped animals is highly regulated.

Vermont’s trappers are part of a community science system. Samples from our regulated trapping seasons contribute to one of the country’s longest running datasets on furbearers, helping state biologists identify potential threats to both wildlife and humans. We analyze tissue from fishers and bobcats for potential exposure to rodenticides. We track rabies distribution to measure spread on the landscape and evaluate the success of ongoing control efforts with our partners at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services. And our collaborators at the University of Vermont use genetic samples from fisher, bobcat, coyote, and fox to map furbearer movements across the landscape and to look at the spread of Covid (CoV2) in wildlife populations.

As we consider the role of regulated trapping in Vermont, it is important to understand that there is no alternative way to gather these valuable samples for research and monitoring.

Wildlife cameras cannot collect tissue. And furbearers trapped by professionals for damage or nuisance reasons would not provide a comparably large or diverse sample to that generated during our regulated trapping seasons. Without regulated trapping, state biologists and our conservation partners would lose our ability to gather sex, age, and distribution data that are essential for monitoring species like bobcats and otters. We would also lose the ability to detect and respond to emerging wildlife diseases, environmental toxins, and habitat loss.

Regulated trapping provides social benefits, too. Many of Vermont’s wildlife conflicts are addressed during our regulated trapping seasons. The animals taken are utilized for food and fur. The costs, labor, and rewards of coexisting on a landscape with furbearers are shared by our neighbors.

So, what could it look like for Vermont communities if regulated trapping was outlawed, and nuisance control trapping was outsourced to businesses?

When regulated trapping was banned in Massachusetts in 1996, the beaver population doubled. Public support for beaver and the valuable wetlands they create declined. The cost for dealing with human/beaver conflicts increased dramatically. Towns and highway departments faced bills from $4,000 to $21,000 per year from 1998-2002 to deal with human/beaver conflicts. Individual landowners paid upwards of $300 per beaver to have them trapped by nuisance animal control contractors. In many cases animals trapped as nuisances were not used for fur or food.

Of course, Vermonters need to weigh the scientific and social benefits of regulated trapping against understandable concerns about the safety of pets and the suffering of trapped animals.

Recognizing this, the Fish and Wildlife Department is developing new trapping regulations at the direction of the legislature. In 2022, we worked with a diverse group of stakeholders and drew from peer-reviewed research to identify ways to make trapping safer and more humane. This spring, we will invite public comment on proposed regulations to: limit legal trap types in Vermont to the most humane standards based on peer-reviewed research; protect birds of prey and pets from being attracted to baited traps; and create a 25 ft – 50 ft. safety buffer between public roads, trails on most state lands, and the places where most traps can be set. Once finalized, these regulations should go into effect in 2024.

We believe that stronger regulations to reduce risks are in line with public opinion. 60 percent of Vermonters supported regulated trapping in a statistically representative state-wide survey last fall. And although Vermonter’s opinions vary regarding different reasons people may trap, 60 percent also supported the right of others to trap regardless of their personal approval of trapping.

As Vermonters consider regulated trapping’s role on our landscape, it is crucial to understand the complexity of the conservation challenges at hand—and the practical solutions the Fish and Wildlife Department is working towards.

May and June 2023 – Vermont Fish & Wildlife will accept public comment on new proposed regulations on trapping and will make additional recommendations to the proposal advanced by the board on April 5, 2023. Read the BMP Legislative Report with Responsiveness Summary and Attachments

Public comment emails on trapping in Vermont can be sent to ANR.FWPublicComment@vermont.gov  Deadline for comments is Friday, June 30, 2023.

Public hearings will be held in person and online at:

  • Tuesday, June 20, 6:30-8:30 pm. Rutland Middle School, 67 Library Avenue, Rutland VT | map
  • Wednesday, June 21, 6:30-8:30 pm. Montpelier High School, 5 High School Drive, Montpelier VT | map
  • Thursday, June 22, 6:30-8:30. Online via Microsoft Teams at: https://tinyurl.com/trappinghearing
On May 2, 2023 this raccoon was found on a road near Island Pond, Vermont with a body-gripping trap on its head and body. There was no identification on the trap as required by law. The animal was later killed by a VFW warden.

Last year in Vermont we saw the passage of two bills that were intended to reduce the amount of suffering experienced by wildlife at the hands of trappers and hounders. Act No. 159 (S.201) An act relating to best management practices (BMPs) for trapping and Act No. 165 (S.281) An act related to hunting coyotes with dogs. Although both bills began as proposed legislation that would have banned both recreational trapping and the hunting of coyotes with dogs, after much negotiation and compromise, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department (VFW) is only proposing minimal changes that would still allow unethical and cruel trapping and coyote hounding practices to continue.

VFW has constructed coyote hunting with hounds regulations that offer no substantive changes to the practice to address the control of loose hounds or the biting, mauling and fighting that can occur when multiple hounds run down a coyote. In recent years multiple instances of trespass and violent coyote hounding incidents have been documented in Vermont leading to the introduction and passage of Act No. 165. Yet, the proposed regulations simply create a permitting process that will still allow multiple hounds to run down coyotes in Vermont, only now the practice will require a “Coyote Dog Permit.”

January 2022 photo shared on Facebook by Vermont hound hunter, Terance Wilbur.

The proposed changes to reduce the level of suffering endured by animals in traps set in Vermont are the minimalist, otherwise they would not be supported by individual trappers and organizations like the Vermont Trappers Association, whose members also sit on the Fish & Wildlife Board which voted to move forward the proposed changes to trapping rules in the state. Some restrictions on placing traps within 50 feet of some public trails will apply, but not on the 100 Wildlife Management Areas where much recreational trapping occurs in Vermont. Also, there will continue to be no restriction on the placement of foot-hold or body-gripping traps immediately off of roads and trails in Vermont if set for “nuisance” wildlife such as beaver as is regularly done by the Agency of Transportation (VTrans) across the state. 

The use of body-gripping traps that the fur industry’s own research reveals can take up to 13 minutes to kill a beaver or otter, will continue to be allowed in Vermont as well as being allowed to trap fisher, despite researchers acknowledging some body-gripping traps in use in Vermont were proven to not kill fisher humanely within five minutes as required by BMP trapping standards. Those standards require that 70% of experimental furbearers subjected to trap tests conducted at a lab in Canada be killed within 300 seconds of the trap’s strike. Body-gripping traps have also recently been responsible for the accidental killing of pets in Vermont.

This pet was killed in an illegally set body-gripping trap in Corinth, Vermont in December 2022.

This Summer Vermont Fish & Wildlife will hold three public hearings and will receive the public’s comments on the proposed trapping and coyote hound rule changes until June 30, 2023. While we expect no change in VFW’s position, it is important to demonstrate to the agency as well as legislators that these changes will do little to nothing to reduce the suffering experienced by thousands of beavers, otters, fishers, mink, bobcat, coyote and other animals in legal regulated body-gripping and foothold traps in Vermont. For over four centuries humans have relentlessly trapped Vermont’s indigenous wildlife for the sake of profit. We believe it’s time to end the commercial exploitation of wildlife by a handful of individuals and recognize the important ecological role beavers, otters and other “furbearers” play in our battle against climate change and habitat fragmentation.

Every compassionate citizen of Vermont should take a moment and review the proposed changes to Vermont’s furbearer rules and comment before the June 30, 2023 deadline. It’s important to remind VFW that they are tasked with protecting the wildlife of Vermont for all its citizens, not just those who trap or hunt coyotes with hounds. These proposed changes or the lack thereof, should be seen as the reason why Vermonters still need to fight for a total ban on recreational trapping and the establishment of a non-lethal nuisance wildlife trapping program as well as a prohibition on the hunting of coyotes with hounds in Vermont. 

This is a summary based on mandatory trapper reporting required by law since 2018, unfortunately according to Vermont Fish & Wildlife, 30% of licensed trappers fail to provide their required reports without any legal consequence for the violation.
All of these videos of coyote hunting with hounds were recently shared on Facebook by Vermont hound hunters.

View a table comparing the legislature’s directives, the board’s proposal, and the department’s additional recommendations.

Public comment emails can be sent to  ANR.FWPublicComment@vermont.gov   Deadline for comments is Friday, June 30, 2023

Public hearings will be held in person and online at:

  • Tuesday, June 20, 6:30-8:30 pm. Rutland Middle School, 67 Library Avenue, Rutland VT | map
  • Wednesday, June 21, 6:30-8:30 pm. Montpelier High School, 5 High School Drive, Montpelier VT | map
  • Thursday, June 22, 6:30-8:30. Online via Microsoft Teams at: https://tinyurl.com/trappinghearing

August 4 – September 27, 2022 – The department convened a stakeholder working group composed primarily of pro-trapping interests, to identify potential areas of supposed “common ground” for updated regulations. Almost all of the recommendations by wildlife advocates were ignored.

Its time to end the fur industry’s war on furbearers in Vermont.