One of the most pernicious and misleading claims of animal rights activists (ARA) is their assertion that traps are indiscriminate. Their claim suggests that traps can simply hurt anything and everything that happens upon them because traps cannot distinguish between pets, wild animals, or children. By emphasizing the randomness of capture, ARA exploit the public’s fear of unknown risks in the hopes that this fear can help motivate the public to ban these important wildlife management tools.
The Truth: The first point that must be made is that traps do not set themselves. They rely on humans to find a suitable location, and then set the trap. This point may seem obvious but it is frequently overlooked in conversations about traps. I suspect the reason for this oversight is similar to that of the anti-gun crowd. If they can convince the public that guns shoot themselves, then they can garner public support to ban the tool (given that it is easier to ban things than human behavior).
The fact is trapping involves two elements, the trap and the trapper. Trappers make traps more selective by choosing traps designed to catch the target species as well as placing the traps in locations and with appropriate baits to attract that species. For example, a 330 Conibear® placed under ice to catch beaver is not going to catch a bird or harm a child, unless said child wants to chop through the ice and try to get caught.
Trappers can, and do, narrow the kinds of animals that can be captured in their choice of trap size (smaller traps can only capture smaller animals), trap location, and baiting. All these variables combine to make trapping a rather targeted activity. Not as targeted as hunting, but targeted nevertheless.
Additionally, trappers reduce non-target capture through the use of timing. Trapping in January means you won't catch woodchucks which are hibernating. Likewise, trapping seasons are established to prevent capturing females with young. By trapping in the fall and winter, the young are mature enough to live on their own.
The bottom line is that the trap-set does limit the kinds of animals that can be caught. Now, can it guarantee that only target animals will be caught 100% of the time? No. Nothing in nature and dealing with wildlife is precise. But before you saddle up your moral high horse, I should note that you can’t guarantee that your car will never hit animals when you drive. Even fences designed to keep out deer, kill deer who become entrapped in them. Animals are not robots. They act differently in different situations and they are individuals with their own behavioral quirks. But to suggest that trapping is this sort of random activity where capturing animals is a the moral equivalent of spinning a roulette wheel is patently false.
It’s time for animal rights activists to start providing the public with all the factual information regarding their opposition to trapping. Their continued use of fuzzy terms and slanted terms is unworthy of this important issue.
Image. For those of you who may not know traps, the trap in the picture is a 110 Conibear style trap. It is typically used to capture muskrats.
Stephen M. Vantassel is a tutor in theology at King’s Evangelical Divinity School and author of Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009)
He is also an expert in wildlife damage management and has published two books and dozens of articles in the field of wildlife damage management.
Copyright 2010 Stephen M. Vantassel