Gov. Mark Dayton's administration is supporting a bill at the Legislature that restricts body-gripping traps in Minnesota, with a goal of reducing the accidental trapping and killing of dogs.
"Since 2012, more than 25 dogs have been killed by body-grip traps," Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin, author of bill, said Monday at a Senate subcommittee hearing. His bill "doesn't inhibit trapping. It will just make it safer for dogs and other family pets."
Hoffman's bill would require body-gripping traps to be either completely submerged in water, or have enclosures with smaller openings and larger recesses, or be placed at least 5 feet above the ground. All of those methods would greatly reduce the chances of a dog being accidentally trapped, he said.
"Current Minnesota trapping laws aren't protecting dogs," Hoffman said. He noted there are about 10,000 trappers, but 150,000 upland and waterfowl hunters, most of whom use dogs. And 53 percent of Minnesota households have dogs, he said. The governor has two.
Tom Landwehr, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) commissioner, testified in favor of the bill.
"The administration believes it's important to reduce accidental dog deaths," Landwehr said. "And we believe this bill will do it. I recognize this will require trappers to retool their efforts, but given the intense use of our lands and waters, we believe the change is warranted."
Several dog owners, including one who lost a dog to a trap, testified in favor of the bill.
Restrictions passed in 2012 require trappers to use a 7-inch recess 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. The DNR had proposed more restrictive regulations, but the Legislature rejected them.
Hoffman said the current law isn't effective enough.
Gary Leistico, an attorney representing the Minnesota Trappers Association, opposed the bill and said if it passed, "there would be no meaningful trapping with body-trip traps on dry land in Minnesota."
He said trapping education has been very effective.
"It is a true tragedy when dogs are caught; no one wants dogs to be caught, least of all trappers."
The Minnesota Forest Zone Trappers Association also opposed the measure.
Under the bill, a person who finds a pet or companion animal in a trap or snare would have to notify a conservation officer or DNR wildlife official within 24 hours of the discovery. Also, a person who kills a pet or companion animal in an illegally set body-grip trap or snare would lose their trapping license for a minimum of five years.
Another provision would require written permission to set a trap or snare on private property — a provision the DNR doesn't support because it would impact vast forest lands in northern Minnesota owned by private companies but open for public use.
No action was taken on the bill, but it could be included in a larger omnibus bill.