Proposed Wildlife Trapping Policy 

Seeking Comment on Proposed Wildlife Trapping Policy

proposed policy | comment board (now closed) ]

Existing Wildlife Policy and the Decision to Develop Trapping Policy
by Dave Scott, Vice President for Conservation

Why the Sierra Club needs a Policy on the Use of Trapping Devices
by Liz Walsh, Ph.D., Chair, Trapping Policy Taskforce

Comment period is now closed. You can still read the comments here.

Proposed Policy on Wildlife Trapping

Use of body-gripping devices — including leghold traps, snares, and Conibear® traps — are indiscriminate to age, sex and species and typically result in injury, pain, suffering, and/or death of target and non-target animals.

The Sierra Club considers body-gripping, restraining and killing traps and snares to be ecologically indiscriminate and unnecessarily inhumane and therefore opposes their use.
The Sierra Club promotes and supports humane, practical and effective methods of mitigating human-wildlife conflicts and actively discourages the use of inhumane and indiscriminate methods.

Implementation and application of this policy should be based on the most recent and relevant science and should minimize harm to ecosystems

Existing Wildlife Policy and the Decision to Develop Trapping Policy

by Dave Scott, Vice President for Conservation

In 2010, the Board of Directors voted to authorize a task force to develop Club policy on wildlife trapping. The Board had received a large number of messages urging directors to adopt trapping policy — mostly coming from individuals, but also from groups, chapters and the national Wildlife and Endangered Species Committee. Many of these messages emphasized the cruelty of some forms of trapping, such as leghold traps, and the indiscriminate killing that trapping can cause, including the killing or maiming of endangered species. Policy development was delayed until 2011 to accommodate two members of the task force.

Sierra Club has not had policy on trapping per se. What the Club does have is a 1994 Wildlife and Native Plants policy that emphasizes the importance of maintaining and, where feasible, restoring natural ecosystems and biodiversity. This existing wildlife policy and accompanying guidelines can be found here.

Current guidelines state a preference for nonlethal means of dealing with wildlife damage, at least "when feasible."

The task force was charged with drafting a proposed trapping policy, and that group submitted a proposed policy late in 2011. The board considered the recommendations of the task force and voted to approve a draft policy, which is now being posted for a 60 day comment period.

The 2010 board vote to authorize a task force was unanimous, and there was also broad support for posting this proposed policy for comment. However, some have voiced concerns. Critics of the proposed policy note that the Club has traditionally taken an ecosystem-based or species-based approach to wildlife issues, as opposed to focusing on prevention of individual suffering. As a matter of Club policy, the Sierra Club has not opposed to killing animals for hunting or meat consumption (although we do encourage eating a more plant-based diet). Some maintain that death from trapping isn't necessarily more cruel than death from hunting or commercial meat production. Making defensible policy distinctions about what kinds of wildlife deaths or suffering are acceptable, what kinds aren't, and why is difficult.

Critics of this proposal also argue that it makes no exception for ecological management in areas where some may consider reduction of exotic animals to be necessary for an area’s environmental integrity or for the local survival of endangered species. Task force experts considered these arguments, but disagreed with them, and pointed out that the proposed policy would still allow the use of non-body-gripping traps for ecological management, including box and cage traps.

We look forward to a discussion of these difficult but important policy choices. We want to hear what you think. Do you support the decision to develop trapping policy? Why or why not? Is the proposed policy language right? What would you add or change, and why? Thank you in advance for your comments. The comment period will close on March 30, 2012.

Why the Sierra Club needs a Policy on the Use of Trapping Devices

by Liz Walsh, Ph.D., Chair, Trapping Policy Taskforce

In response to a request made by many concerned Sierra Club wildlife activists and several Chapter Wildlife leaders, the a Task Force authorized by the Sierra Club Board has developed a proposed policy on the use of trapping devices. Chapter Wildlife leaders requested a policy so that they could better respond to wildlife management practices in their states.

As an ethically-based organization, the Sierra Club is obligated to adopt and adhere to policies that align our environmental ethic with respect for the environment, including animals. Accordingly, our policies should oppose infliction of pain and suffering on wildlife, whether that suffering is inflicted intentionally or not. Indeed, this concept is well established in current Club policy [“All living organisms and their natural ecosystems possess intrinsic, spiritual, and ethical values that cannot be measured in human economic or utilitarian terms…Wildlife, both animals and plants and their habitat, are an essential component of fully functioning ecosystems and are a barometer of the well-being of the biosphere” (].

The use of body-gripping devices- including leghold traps, snares, and Conibear® traps- are indiscriminate to age, sex and species and typically result in injury, pain, suffering, and/or death of target and non-target animals, including pets, birds of prey, and threatened and endangered species. Twelve states now prohibit the use of snares, eight have banned or severely restricted steel jaw leghold traps, and more than 80 countries worldwide have banned leghold traps completely, including all member countries of the European Union. Organizations that have declared steel-jawed devices to be inhumane include The American Animal Hospital Association, The World Veterinary Association and the National Animal Control Association.

The need to reduce injury, pain and suffering is also reflected in current SC Wildlife Policy that states: “Non-lethal methods of reducing damage should be utilized in place of lethal control measures when feasible. If these methods are not sufficient, lethal management and control of wildlife or plants should be targeted toward individual problem animals or plants.” The support of use of body-gripping traps in these instances would contradict current wildlife policy in that these traps are often lethal in nature (e.g., neck snares and Conibear® kill traps) and inherently non-selective.

While most states regulate trapping in some capacity, regulations vary greatly and have not been shown to eliminate the threats body-gripping traps pose to non-target animals. Furthermore, there is no way to mitigate the pain and suffering experienced by trapped animals through regulations and best practices.

Two examples that elucidate the insufficiency of trapping regulations follow: one focusing on management of a highly endangered species and the other a broader policy issue.

A. Mexican wolf recovery: As one of the most critically endangered terrestrial mammals in the US, the Mexican wolf has suffered at the hands of state and federal regulators for more than a decade. Consequently, the reintroduced population has consistently failed to meet recovery objectives. Although concerns about the viability of the wolf population have been growing, the New Mexico Game Commission recently approved trapping in designated wolf reintroduction habitats, despite the fact that 13 documented incidents involving recreational and commercial trappers resulted in seven wolves being injured (two of which had leg amputations) and two fatalities.

B. Trap check times. There is no consistent federal policy informing trap check times. At present, state regulations vary widely ranging from 24hrs to 72hrs to no mandated trap check time. Research has confirmed a direct correlation between trap check time and injury/death. For example, regulations in Idaho allow for a 72hr trap check time. While, three days of fear and torture for any animal caught in the trap is unacceptable, it is particularly worrisome now that recovering populations of gray wolves will be trapped for profit and recreation.

Because of the inadequacy of regulations to mitigate animal pain and suffering caused by body-gripping traps, Sierra Club Chapters and Groups need a strong national policy to provide clear guidance for addressing local wildlife planning and management so that these activities are both based on the best available science and humane.