Vermont Wildlife Patrol’s December 2023 investigation of fisher trapping practices.

Vermont’s Act 165 required the state’s Fish & Wildlife Department to introduce Best Management Practices (BMPs) for trapping, which are industry standards based on decades of trap research funded by the fur industry. BMP’s for trapping were first introduced in 1991 in response to the European Union’s ban on the importation of furs taken with inhumane trapping methods such as non-lethal foot-hold traps. The most common traps used to take wildlife in Vermont are non-lethal foot-hold and lethal body-gripping traps. While a foot-hold trap is meant to restrain a wild animal, body-gripping traps are designed to crush a target animal’s vital areas with rotating steel jaws.

In June 2023, Vermont Wildlife Patrol began asking Vermont Fish & Wildlife questions about the Conibear 220 body-gripping trap, and published BMP research which concluded that it was ineffective at killing fishers humanely in trap experiments conducted in Canada in 1989. BMP standards for body-gripping traps require that at least 70% of live fisher test subjects be killed within 300 seconds of being caught in a body-gripping trap. In the published tests, researchers stated, “The mechanically improved rotating-jaw traps used in this study were much more powerful than the standard model yet, they did not consistently render fisher irreversibly unconscious within five minutes. Therefore this rotating jaw traps cannot be expected, at a 95% level of confidence to render 70% of fishers captured on traplines irreversibly unconscious in three minutes.”

At a June 2023 meeting with Vermont Wildlife Patrol in regards to the Conibear 220, VFW Wildlife Management Program Director, David Sausville and Furbearer Project Leader, Brehan Furhey were asked, “Act 159 directed VFW to reduce the level of suffering animals experience in traps, yet there are no recommended changes to the use of or size of body-gripping traps used to kill fisher despite some legal fisher traps having been proven to not be effective at killing fisher. Why has the department not made any recommended changes to the use of body-gripping traps themselves that do not adhere to BMP standards?” Both Department officials were unable to provide any answers despite having been provided with questions in advance of the meeting. Finally in December 2023, Sausville responded to the still unanswered questions stating, “The (research) paper (cited) is outdated, the traps are no longer sold, that brand had larger dimensions than typical 220 body gripping traps of today, and the traps of 1988/1989 would be illegal if set on land today. Body gripping traps in the 220 range are indeed BMP approved for trapping fisher and are produced under a variety of commercial names.”

Fisher trap in the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge, December 2023.

When again asked for published research which supported that claim in October 2023, Vermont Fish & Wildlife said the department had no published BMP research on body-gripping traps because those experiments were carried out in Canada by the Fur Institute of Canada, which has refused to provide any published BMP research on body-gripping traps to the public. In an email response for any such records, the Commissioner of VFW’s principal assistant stated, “We do not have records of the research that was conducted by the Canadian Provincial authorities, the Fur Institute of Canada, and AFWA for testing body-gripping traps to develop the BMPs.” Yet in the June 2023 Responsiveness Summary: Public Comments Best Management Practices for Furbearer Trapping, Vermont Fish & Wildlife stated, “The BMPs to improve the welfare of trapped animals are backed by a 23-year international science-based research effort by AFWA (Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies) as well as input from our stakeholder working group. Trapping systems that do not meet these criteria will become illegal.” 

A skinned mink carcass used for bait in a Vermont fisher trap on the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge in December 2023.

Vermont Wildlife Patrol and many citizens remain unconvinced about the killing efficiency of body-gripping traps according the VFW’s summary of public comments received about the new trapping rules. For example, in January 2022 a fisher was found on the VAST snowmobile trail in Troy, Vermont with a body-gripping trap on its head. The animal was able to be picked up and driven on a snowmobile to a location where the warden could be called, but without signal, the woman decided to humanely dispatch the fisher with her handgun. According to the investigating warden, “The trap had caused severe damage to the face and mouth areas of the fisher. The fisher would not have been able to open its mouth at all and was most likely blind. As a result of my observations, my estimate was that the fisher had been caught by the trap only a few days prior at most.” The same trapper who is also contracted with the Department of Transportation (VTrans) as a nuisance trapper, was cited for catching the fisher out of season, but the incident highlights the questionable killing power of body-gripping traps currently used to kill fisher in Vermont.

The fisher found in Troy, Vermont stumbling on the VAST snowmobile trail with a Duke 160 body-gripping trap on her face.

Vermont’s fisher trapping season runs the entire month of December and according to trapper surveys for the last ten years, on average between 150-300 fishers are killed each season, most often using traps similar to the 160 body-gripping trap reportedly found on the fisher in Troy. The 160 is much smaller than the 220 trap which failed the reported BMP tests. This year, Vermont Wildlife Patrol began an investigation of fisher trapping practices in the Northeast Kingdom to determine whether animals caught in body-gripping traps were indeed being humanely killed. We remain unconvinced that traps currently listed as BMP approved are effective at killing fishers within the BMP required five minutes in lab tests. Until Vermont Fish & Wildlife provides scientific evidence that the 160 & 220 body-gripping traps used to legally take fisher in Vermont have passed BMP tests, we are asking that the traps be made illegal as was earlier promised by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.

Link to Vermont Fish & Wildlife’s timeline of rule making process for trapping BMP’s:

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