Thursday, April 16, 2009

Conibear traps and S.B. 994, the proposed Connecticut trap ban


News article by Jeff Serena from the Examiner.Com

S.B. 994, An Act Concerning Leghold Traps, is making its way toward consideration in the General Assembly. It originated in the Environment Committee with the effective lobbying of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in direct response to the highly publicized, ultimately fatal trapping of a great horned owl in January 2009. The trap in that incident was a leghold trap. Although the trap was illegal (unpadded, not offset, not anchored, anonymously set), and in such poor and rusted condition that it could not be made to work when tested later, it nonetheless provided sufficient ammunition for anti-trapping activists to set in motion a bill to ban leghold traps.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the General Assembly. By legislative sleight-of-hand, the Act Concerning Leghold Traps also includes language to ban Conibear traps. Conibears aren’t leghold traps. What are they doing in S.B. 994?
The Conibear trap is a killing trap. It’s known generically as a “body-gripping trap” among trappers and wildlife biologists, as a “body-crushing trap” among animal-rights activists, and as a “smooth wire trap” in the Connecticut trapping regulations. The Conibear trap is named for its inventor,
Frank Conibear. A well-known professional trapper and wilderness guide in Canada’s Northwest Territories, Conibear retired from the field in 1944 and began working on a design for a new trap that would kill a trapped animal quickly, rather than holding it alive until the trapper arrived to dispatch it.
By the mid 1950s, Conibear had his new trap. It’s a deceptively simple device that works much like a mousetrap. Two spring-loaded metal frames form an opening into which an animal is guided or lured. As the animal puts its head into the trap, it trips a trigger that snaps the frames together on the animal’s neck or upper body, killing it. Death generally occurs instantly due to a broken neck or dislocated spine, or very rapidly due to physical trauma and drowning. The Canadian Association for the Protection of Fur Bearing Animals provided financing for Conibear’s new device, which quickly gained popularity as an efficient and humane trap. In 1961, the
American Humane Association awarded Frank Conibear its Certificate of Merit for his invention.
In Connecticut, Conibear traps can only be
legally set in the water. They are, therefore, used exclusively for trapping aquatic furbearerslarge traps for beavers and river otters, and smaller traps for muskrats and minks. Although a trap set specifically for a beaver may occasionally catch a legal otter or muskrat, Conibears set in the water are extremely selective in excluding non-target animals, such as deer, birds, bobcats, and dogs.
Because they’re fast-killing and highly selective, Conibears pose a special challenge to anti-trapping activists. It’s easier to get a trap banned if you can plausibly argue that it causes a slow, agonizing death, or that it threatens pets or children or endangered species. As used by trappers in Connecticut, the Conibear trap plainly doesn’t do any of those things. And that’s why it’s in S.B. 994. There’s currently no practical way to get the Conibear trap banned on the merits, no matter how often you misinform people about it. But with public hackles up about the unfortunate owl, and a statewide ban on legholds a real possibility, you can slip the Conibear trap into the bill and reasonably hope that no one will notice. The trick may work, but it’s not a way to responsible or effective wildlife management.

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