One dog death via trap reported during recent furbearer season

St. Paul — There was one fatal incident involving a dog caught in a trap in 2016, the lowest number since the Minnesota DNR began tracking reported incidents in 2012.

It was a low-effort year for trappers, what with a largely depressed fur market, but there’s also reason to believe that educational efforts might be helping to avoid these conflicts.

“I would guess primarily it correlates to licensed trapping sales, which are down, so there’s not as many trappers out there and traps out there because prices are low,” said Jason Abraham, Minnesota DNR furbearer and regulations specialist. “All of that goes hand in hand.”

In 2016, there were 19 total incidents, the same number of incidents as there were in 2012, when there were nine fatalities.

The number of dog fatalities, most of which have involved the Conibear-style body-gripping traps, have not fallen on a bell curve, however. There were 2 fatalities in 2013, five in 2014, and seven in 2015.

As for 2016, Abraham thinks the weather probably played a role.

“If you get a winter storm at the right time, it keeps people from walking their dogs in areas where traps may be set,” he said. “I think when we have lots of incidents, it’s generally a culmination of events, where you have a stretch of really nice weather during a trapping season, when you have lots of traps in the woods, and fur prices are high. That can lead to a lot of incidents.”

What about the educational efforts that have attempted to teach the public about the issue at sport shows, where groups such as the Minnesota Forest Zone Trappers Association have distributed kits designed to enable one to release his dog from body-gripping traps, as well as educational videos on the topic, on top of answering the questions of showgoers?

Abraham said that since 2012 there have been 44 total incidents of dogs being caught in body-grip traps, and 23 of them have been fatal.

“That’s some indication that dogs are able to survive this,” Abraham said of the powerful traps, which generally require swift action to release dogs from them to avoid a fatality.

Abraham said DNR wildlife management offices also offer free, half-hour demonstrations to the public, showing all of the different types of traps and what it takes to operate them.

“We let them get comfortable with the traps,” he said. “If you know what you’re looking at, that can save you time.”

The education doesn’t stop there. The MFZTA, as well as the Minnesota Trappers Association, educates its own members via the Certified Trapper Education Course, which has certified 5,000 people since its launch about a decade ago, said Ray Sogard, MFZTA president.

“Most of them are youth, unless it’s an adult going through the program for the first time,” Sogard said. “We’ve probably had just as many adults go through the program that aren’t counted as part of that 5,000.”

Sogard said the main thing the course tries to stress is not setting traps in areas where there’s much foot traffic, where people are likely to be walking their dogs. He said while the lack of trapping effort most definitely helped bring the number down, he’d like to think all of the educational efforts are helping, too.

“Our No. 1 rule is if there is any potential to catch a dog, don’t set there,” he said. “Minnesota is a big state, and it’s hard sometimes because you are working farm areas, and if you look, most of the incidents are free-roaming dogs on private lands. We would be better off buying dog leashes just to keep them out of our traps, if we would be assured they would use them.”

Of the 132 reported incidents since 2012, only six have involved leashed dogs. Of those, 62 of the incidents were with dogs that were in sight and under verbal control, and 59 dogs were uncontrolled.

Around the time when the DNR started tracking the incidents, there had been some efforts to change trapping laws, perhaps banning the use of the body-gripping traps or requiring they be used in ways that trapping organizations said would make them far less effective. Those efforts never got anywhere, but Sogard said the two trapping organizations in the state have been talking and negotiating with the group that has pushed for change with a goal in mind of coming up with changes that all sides can agree upon.

He declined to say what was being proposed or what was on the table, and said the sides still have work to do.

Sogard, as he has in the past, brought up the idea of delaying some of the trapping seasons about a month, to keep traps out of the woods during a time of the year when there are a lot of bird hunters, who tend to hunt with dogs, in the woods.

In 2015, John Erb, Minnesota DNR wildlife research scientist, told Outdoor News the agency was open to the idea, though he said there hadn’t been a consistent push “by all trappers to do so.”

Sogard disagreed.

“Our organization has brought it up seven years in a row,” he said. “We’ve been telling the DNR to do this, move it back a month, to avoid the conflicts. You would think they would be open to that suggestion.”

Erb could not be reached before press time for this story.

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