At least nine dogs have been killed accidentally in body-gripping traps in Minnesota since the trapping season began last fall, despite new regulations intended to reduce such accidental catches.
Yet a proposal to further tighten trapping regulations appears all but dead at the Capitol this session.
“I would say it’s on life support,’’ said Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, chief author. “Unfortunately, it probably will take the killing of more dogs and families crying out [for changes] — that’s often how the Legislature responds.’’
Wiger couldn’t get his bill heard in a Senate committee, and a companion bill in the House hit the same roadblock. There, Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, chair of the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee, said he won’t allow any trapping-related bill to go through his committee this session because he fears legislators might amend it to prohibit wolf trapping, which he supports.
“We made adjustments to the [trapping] rules last year and haven’t had time to see what effect they’ve actually had,’’ Dill said.
Restrictions passed last session require trappers to use a 7-inch overhang when using baited body-gripping Conibear-style traps on public lands. The overhang is supposed to prevent dogs from sticking their heads in the trap to reach the bait.
Since the trapping season began in October, the Department of Natural Resources has received 20 reports of dogs being caught in traps, 15 of them in body-gripping traps, three in foothold traps and two in snares. Nine of those dogs died, all in Conibear-style traps.
“It absolutely doesn’t work at all,’’ said John Reynolds of Merrifield, a hunter and trapper who lost his springer spaniel in 2011 to a trap.
But Gary Leistico, an attorney representing the Minnesota Trappers Association, disagreed.
“We think the legislation last year had a meaningful benefit to dogs,’’ he said. “We’re not aware of a single dog caught in the modified cubby [a box with the 7-inch overhang].’’
Jason Abraham, DNR furbearer specialist, said none of the 20 dog-trap incidents resulted in citations being issued to trappers. He said three cases involved dogs killed in cubby boxes where the trap was recessed into the box, and at least one had an overhang. But two of the three, including the box with the overhang, were on private land where an overhang isn’t required.
Because the DNR only started formally tracking dog-trap incidents last fall, he said the agency needs several more years of data before it can determine the effectiveness of the regulation.
No overhangs required
Reynolds noted the body-gripping traps still can be placed on trails in the open, without boxes or overhangs, if the traps aren’t baited. Five of the nine dogs killed last season died in those sets, Abraham said.
Leistico said his group is considering regulation changes for those circumstances — possibly involving trap setbacks off roads or trails or buffer zones — that it will propose next year at the Legislature.
“The dog issue is clearly a concern to trappers,’’ he said. “The last thing you want to do if you’re trapping is catch a dog. It’s still rare. But it’s a terrible, tragic thing for those [dog owners], obviously.’’
Unofficially, at least seven dogs died in traps during the 2011-12 trapping season, before the overhang regulations took effect. Reynolds said he believes even more dogs are dying in traps, because only some cases are reported.
Abraham said there’s no way to know. While the DNR has asked its conservation officers and wildlife staff to report cases they learn of, neither trappers nor dog owners are required to report such incidents.
Moving traps off ground
Reynolds helped form Dog Lovers 4 Safe Trapping, a nonprofit group that advocates for tighter regulations on body-gripping traps. The group supports Wiger’s bill and a companion bill in the House authored by Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter, which would require trappers to place body-gripping traps 5 feet off the ground, where dogs couldn’t reach them.
“That won’t allow for meaningful trapping,’’ Leistico said. “Skunk, opossum and bobcat [harvest] would be zero.’’ And it would be difficult to trap raccoons in the southwest, where there are few trees to elevate a set. Predators there can harm pheasant and duck nests, he said.
Reynolds’ group and the Minnesota Trail Hounds Association met with Leistico and the Minnesota Trappers Association in January to try to reach some agreement. But the two sides failed to find common ground.
For now, the issue isn’t going away.
“We have no choice,’’ Reynolds said. “We will be back [at the Legislature] next year and the year after that and the year after that. It’s just a shame so many dogs have to die.’’
Dill said he might be receptive to legislation in 2014.
“Next year is a new ballgame,’’ he said. “I advised trappers that they have to figure something out with these dog people.’’
Leistico said he believes solutions can be found, but he said regulations can’t guarantee no dogs will ever be caught in traps.
“The only way to keep dogs from getting run over by cars is to outlaw cars or outlaw dogs,’’ he said. “No one would expect that to be reasonable. That’s kind of what we’re asking with trapping.’’