During the winter season, New York trappers will continue setting leghold and “Conibear,” or body-crushing, traps throughout the countryside. Their goal is to capture coyotes, foxes, bobcats and other wildlife.
These devices are frequently placed around trails and roads enjoyed by hikers, nature enthusiasts and their companion animals. Unfortunately, pet owners remain largely unaware that such devices could lie in wait, threatening our dogs, cats and other unintended targets.
Trapping is regulated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and, according to regulations, traps may not be placed on public roads or within 100 feet of a public trail. However, trapping is permitted on state owned land within the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves. There are no requirements for signage to be placed in the vicinity of a set trap.
Every year, loosely defined, out-of-date and poorly-enforced regulations cause needless suffering for untold numbers of animals, including non-target wildlife and companion animals. By design, traps are non-selective and, unlike traditional methods of hunting, there’s no guarantee at all that they will capture an animal the trapper intends to capture. There is little scientific data regarding the selectivity of body-crushing Conibear traps, but one study in Canada found that 43 percent of animals caught by this type of device were non-target species, including flying squirrels, owls and hawks.
Heartbreaking incidents of household pets maimed and killed in hidden traps are well-documented and occur in communities across the state. Two years ago, a dog named Axl was killed within Chautauqua County’s Watts Wildlife Management Area after being captured in a trap intended for beaver.
According to Axl’s owner, her golden retriever did not die quickly in the Conibear trap that caught him. These devices consist of two metal rectangles tightly hinged together, which shut quickly with great force once triggered. While these traps are intended to kill instantly, if they misfire or strike with insufficient force, the animal is subjected to extreme suffering.
Other incidents involving these devices include:
- In 2017, a stray hunting dog was spotted in Ithaca with a coyote trap on her leg. The trap was later recovered by a Broome County resident with the dog’s foot remaining inside.
- A cat named Stryker was caught in an illegal snare trap last January and brought to the Central New York SPCA in Onondaga County. To save his life, veterinarians amputated Stryker’s front leg.
- While being walked along a public trail in Dutchess County, a Siberian husky named Neve was injured after encountering a leghold trap on Thanksgiving Day, 2015.
- In 2005, a mixed-breed dog named Zephyr, who had been rescued from a hurricane in the Bahamas the year before, was suddenly killed by a steel jawed trap set within a Nassau County nature preserve.
In 2016, two dogs were injured in separate incidents in Franklin County when they both stepped onto traps set near roads. In response, regulatory officials issued a statement saying, “DEC encourages trappers to use common sense when setting traps and to set traps where they cannot be easily accessed by people or domestic animals.”
Pet owners probably find little comfort in knowing that “common sense,” or a lack thereof, is all that separates them and their companion animals from unexpected, serious harm. However, there is an ongoing effort in Albany to update laws governing trapping and to provide greater protection.
While New York’s Environmental Conservation Law preempts local communities from restricting the use and sale of leghold and body-crushing Conibear traps, legislation has previously been introduced in NYS Senate and Assembly committees that would change the law and grant counties the authority to enact local trapping regulations.
Counties may seek to restrict trapping in the interest of public safety, especially as suburban areas expand, where pet encounters with traps can become more frequent. These “home rule” bills were first introduced in 1998 and reintroduced each year since. They’ve failed to gain enough support for passage because of opposition from state trapping organizations. At the town level, some municipalities in Suffolk, Erie and Ulster counties have exercised their authority to limit trapping on town-owned parcels only, which is permitted under state law.
The state legislature and the DEC could also expand its scope and consider laws and regulations similar to those in other states. Nevada law mandates signage warning of trapping in certain parks and recreational areas, and additional setbacks for traps placed near public trails and camping grounds are required in Oregon.
New York’s uniquely diverse wildlife and world-renowned open spaces are treasured and shared by us all. Outdoor enthusiasts can help protect themselves and their companion animals by knowing that traps may be placed in or around recreational areas, often covered, baited or hidden under brush. Citizens can help prevent tragic deaths and unnecessary pain by becoming more familiar with the recreational spaces they frequent, gaining knowledge of local regulations, and lobbying their state representatives to enact sensible changes to the Environmental Conservation Law for the purpose of creating safer communities.
More information about the dates of trapping seasons in the New York State can be found here. Maps of Raccoon, Red Fox, Gray Fox, Skunk, Coyote, Opossum and Weasel trapping seasons, and Mink and Muskrat trapping seasons from DEC.