The national Ruffed Grouse Society has come out in support of a controversial bill in the Minnesota Legislature that would restrict the use of body-gripping traps in an attempt to reduce accidental dog deaths.

The conservation group, which has about 16,000 members, including 2,100 in Minnesota, issued a statement Thursday supporting most of the provisions in the bill, SF1325, authored by Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin.

“The proposed trap-use requirements outlined in SF 1325 appear reasonable and consistent with requirements in other states that have trapping histories and opportunities similar to those in Minnesota,'' RGS president and CEO John Eichinger wrote in a letter to Hoffman.

"The Ruffed Grouse Society is confident that Minnesota’s skilled trappers will have little difficulty adapting to these new procedures,” Eichinger wrote.

Gary Zimmer, an RGS coordinating biologist in Wisconsin, said the issue is a big one for many Ruffed Grouse Society members in Minnesota.

"There have been bird dogs killed and injured by traps, and we're trying to correct that situation to make it good for trapping and for bird dogs in the woods,'' he said.

"I've heard from many members who say they quit hunting when the trapping season starts,'' Zimmer added.

The Minnesota Trappers Association and the Minnesota Forest Zone Trappers Association both oppose the measure, saying the proposal would greatly limit the effectiveness of trappers.

"It would not allow meaningful trapping in Minnesota,” Gary Leistico, an attorney representing the Minnesota Trappers Association, told legislators recently.

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 ground. These methods would greatly reduce the chances of a dog being accidentally trapped, Hoffman said.

Since 2012, the Department of Natural Resources says 75 dogs have been caught in traps and snares, and 17 died. A group pushing for trapping restrictions claims at least 25 dogs have been killed during that time. The DNR has testified in support of the bill.

Another provision of Hoffman's bill, not supported by the DNR or the Ruffed Grouse Society, is a requirement that trappers secure written permission from the landowner prior to placing traps on private lands.

 “This stipulation places on unreasonable burden on trappers and could set a dangerous precedent for the future of outdoor recreation in Minnesota,'' Eichinger said. "After all, if trappers are required to obtain written permission to pursue their passion on private lands, why not bird watchers or deer hunters?”

Meanwhile, Pheasants Forever, another national conservation group with 25,000 Minnesota members, many of them with hunting dogs, hasn't taken a formal position on Hoffman's bill.

"We support protecting hunting dogs,'' said Joe Duggan, a PF vice president. "Many of our members own dogs and are very concerned, as we are as an organization. It's a difficult issue, but we're not going to comment on specific legislation.''

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