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A gap in trapping regs

Beetle became caught in a foot-hold trap as we walked in the Delaware State Forest in Pike County, PA. A dog belonging to a Milford, PA woman was also recently caught in a foot-hold trap on Delaware State Forest land.

January 19, 2012

As currently regulated in Pennsylvania, trapping presents certain hazards of which outdoor recreationists should be aware.

I discovered this the hard way when our 15-pound Miniature Pinscher, Beetle, stepped on a foot-hold trap set along a public multi-purpose trail in the Delaware State Forest in Pike County, PA.

What started out as a healthy hike on Commonwealth land turned into a harrowing experience that resulted in a $230 veterinary bill, a set of questions and some unsettling answers.

The trap was set at the edge of the trail, where a dog on a leash—or a curious child—could easily encounter it. We were less than a quarter-mile from the main road when Beetle went down, yelping frantically and tearing at the trap with her teeth. We were bitten in our attempts to free her before we figured out how to open the device, then rushed to the nearest veterinarian.

Certain that the trap’s placement was illegal, I called the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC), only to learn that the “highly regulated” activity of trapping is not as highly regulated as one might think. In terms of trap placement, the restrictions that do exist address proximity to occupied dwellings. In a conversation with PGC Press Secretary Jerry Feaser and Wildlife Conservation Education Specialist Joe Kosack, I was told, “Safety zones apply to buildings, not trails.”

In explanation for my dog’s yelping, I was told, “Your dog was upset because it was restrained, not because it was in pain.” They added that trappers sometimes find animals asleep in traps when they arrive.

The PGC requires trappers to complete a training course before obtaining a license. And while the PGC officials described most trappers as “highly ethical conscientious conservationists,” they conceded that the placement of this trap might be a case of “poor trapping practice.”

Joel Whitehead, Vice President East of the Pennsylvania Trappers Association, agrees. “I would say that the trapper probably used poor judgment in setting that closely to a multiuse trail,” he wrote in an email. “In our trapper training courses we stress the importance of discretion.”

While one hopes trappers would choose not to place a trap next to a trail, the absence of regulation makes it possible for them to do so and leaves other trail users at risk. Updating current regulations begins with contacting executive director Carl G. Roe, at PGC, 2001 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797. See our editorial on page 6 for more on this issue.

Trapping facts and figures