This chapter looks at the basics of trapping. It focuses on what trapping is, where it happens, what tools (traps) are used, regulations for signage and trap checking, and how trapping compares to angling and hunting.
Trapping is the use of devices to contain and kill animals. Trapping as an industry in Canada dates back as far as the 1500s¹. Trapping was used by Indigenous peoples as an important resource for living and survival¹. Furs attained through trapping were sold by Indigenous peoples to the Hudson Bay Company, the North West Company, and the American Fur Company². When the Hudson Bay Company and the North West Company merged in 1821 this new monopoly, combined with society's preference for cheaper silk clothing over expensive fur, resulted in fur prices and their overall value dropping². Indigenous peoples who relied on trapping for income were then required to look to other sources of revenue to support their families and, hence, began the decline of the necessity of trapping for fashion². Today trapping is still a part of Indigenous practices for subsistence, income, and cultural purposes.
It is estimated that currently nearly 50,000 Canadians (including 5,000 Indigenous peoples) engage in trapping throughout the country³ ⁴. In contrast, there are nearly 3 million anglers (fishers) and 1.3 million hunters nationwide³. Regulatory bodies and supporters of trapping use trapping for any of the following reasons: as a wildlife management tool for mitigation of human-wildlife conflict, for species at risk conservation, for reintroduction of wildlife populations, for wildlife research, and for the sustainable use of furbearers for the commercial fur trade⁵. However, a study conducted for the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association in 2019 showed that approximately 75% of trappers trap mainly for sport and recreation while 20% do so for employment or income³. As noted by the Fur Institute of Canada (FIC) “trapping would continue to occur whether or not the fur and meat is used.”⁴
Muskrat is the most popular species to trap followed by beaver⁴. Other species commonly trapped in Canada include but are not limited to: badger, bear, bobcat, cougar, coyote, fisher, fox, hare, lynx, marten, mink, otter, rabbit, raccoon, skunk, squirrel, weasel, wolf, and wolverine⁶.
Modern day trapping is used for conservation efforts as claimed by regulating bodies, such as the FIC, the Alberta Trappers Association (ATA), and the Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). This would be a result of revenue generated for the provincial and federal government via trapping licenses and registration fees, as well as managing wildlife populations throughout the province⁴.
According to the FIC⁴:
“Regulated seasonal fur trapping is a consistent way to manage populations at no cost to taxpayers. Trapping fees and royalties paid by fur trappers also contribute to government revenues, helping to offset tax dollars needed to fund government conservation efforts. Without fur trapping, municipal and provincial taxes would have to be raised significantly to pay professional licensed trappers for wildlife control services, and to cover damage claims and more costly alternative management methods”.
In reality, Canada’s fur-industry is often subsidized by the federal government and taxpayer dollars. According to data from the Government of Canada, between the years of 2015 and 2019, nearly $11.5 million in payments were provided to various fur and trapping operations throughout Canada⁷. In the same years, the Government of Canada has provided $9.2 million in grants and subsidies to the fur industry within Canada⁸.
Acquiring a trapping license is relatively easy. For example, within Alberta a prospective trapper needs to attend a weekend-long trapping course, write an examination, then apply and pay $20 for a resident trapping license¹. After the necessary steps to become a trapper have been followed, a trapper has the option to trap in Registered Fur Management Areas (RFMA) or on private land in Alberta. An RFMA is a designated parcel of public land (i.e. crown land) where a Registered Fur Management Licence holder can hunt and trap fur-bearing animals on the lands described on the licence². There are approximately 1,632 RFMAs located throughout Alberta³. To utilize RFMAs, a trapper must have a registered license⁴.
A registered license allows a trapper access to use a trapline on land they do not own within RFMAs. The land where their trapline is located cannot be sold⁴. Instead, a person sells their trapline assets when selling their trapline⁴. To acquire a trapline, a prospective owner must get the approval by the relevant Fish and Wildlife office responsible for the area the trapline is located in⁴. Knowledge of available traplines can be acquired through word of mouth, trapping associations, fish and wildlife offices, websites, publications, etc. Generally, once a trapline has been secured, identification in the form of a fur management license or trapper’s identification card must be carried at all times while trapping³.
The Senior Holder is someone who is the principal holder of an RFMA⁵. They are authorized to hunt or trap only on their RFMAs or on lands they own, lease or occupy for a five-year term. This term is renewable³. Their spouse or child (under the age of 18) can hunt or trap fur-bearing animals on that RFMA without a license³. A trapper can trap on private land outside of RFMAs as long as the land owner gives permission for the trapper to do so - this is called a resident license³.
It is important to note that there are also restrictions on when trapping can be conducted (i.e. trapping seasons). Information on Alberta’s trapping season, including what fur-bearing animals can be trapped and when, can be found here. There are also requirements for checking traps, limits on the type of traps that can be used, and precautions that are advised to be followed to reduce bycatch in traps⁵ ⁶. In some circumstances, such as on private property, additional licenses and permits may be required for the use of neck snares and power snares³.
Each province and territory across Canada has its own process for trapping certifications, managing traplines, selecting trapping seasons, etc. It is important to refer to your own provincial or territory requirements to learn more.
Traps in Canada are classified as either live or killing traps.
A live capture or restraining trap is designed to restrain an animal in some way without the use of a device with teeth, hooks, claws, barbs, or projections¹. Examples of live traps include leg-hold and cage traps. Here is a list of certified live capture traps.
Leg-hold trap designs can either be enclosed, guarded, or coil-sprung. Regardless, the leg-hold trap’s purpose is to capture an animal by the leg or foot.
Images of Leg-Hold Traps
This is a Sensitive Image - Press and Hold Image to View | Photo Credit: TrapFree New Mexico
This is a Sensitive Image - Press and Hold Image to View | Photo Credit: Wheat Kings Adventures
Photo Credit: Dante DiPirro, Esq.
Cage traps allow an animal to enter through one side. However, once inside the trap, they are unable to escape. There are different designs and sizes depending on the targeted animal.
Image of a Cage Trap | Photo Credit: Wickenkamp Live Trap
Killing traps are designed to kill an animal and are usually equipped with a device preventing it from releasing¹. An example of killing traps is a body grip trap, also called a rotating jaw or conibear trap³. As the name suggests, this type of trap is designed to kill an animal by two rotating jaws closing around its body with force, effectively crushing its organs and bones. Here is a list of certified killing traps.
Neck snares are devices that use a loop of wire, stranded wire, or wire rope which is designed to close around the neck, torso, foot, or leg of an animal². Federal regulators in Canada do not classify killing neck snares as killing traps. As a result, their classification as live vs. killing traps is left up to provincial and territory governments to determine. The requests we made to these government bodies to confirm their classification of killing neck snares have gone unanswered. Refer to Chapter 4 for further details on neck snares, including their legality, exemption from the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS), negative impacts on the environment, and more.
Image of Neck Snare Trap
Image of a Body Grip/Rotating Jaw/Conibear Trap
There are also Submersion Trapping systems which hold the animal underwater until it dies. Submersion trapping systems include the sliding wire technique and the tangle stake technique. The sliding wire technique involves allowing the animal to swim deep into the wire while a non-relaxing lock prevents it from resurfacing⁴. The tangle stake technique forces the animal to swim in a circle by a wire that is attached to the stake which will wrap around itself forcing the animal underwater³. Baited cable devices can also be used to hold an animal underwater.
Example of the Tangle Stake Technique
This is a Sensitive Image - Press and Hold Image to View | Photo Credit: Trap Free Montana: Montana Trapping and Its Toll
Here is a list of current certified live and killing traps in Canada.
This video by The Fur-Bearers shows how to release common traps, in the event your pet gets caught in one. It is highly recommended that you view this video prior to taking your pet onto trails or into the backcountry.
Signage of traps is considered a part of ‘good trapline management’ but is not a requirement¹ ². Specifically, requirements of trappers to place trapline signage varies by jurisdiction in each province and territory and are almost non-existent, with some exceptions for placing bait³ ¹. This has resulted in the unnecessary bycatch of household pets and unintended animals in traps⁴.
Checking requirements for traps in Canada also vary and are as follows:
Ethical hunters welcome the laws and regulations that enforce sportsmanlike practices while following the unofficial rules of fair chase. They are often eager to protect or even improve wildlife habitat and populations. Trapping, however, turns wildlife into a commodity where profit and private gain often come before preserving wildlife populations.
There are several differences between trapping and subsistence hunting ethics. First, trapping is indiscriminate because a trap cannot be targeted like a rifle can. Second, a responsible hunter’s goal is a clean kill. Trapping is cruel because of the suffering and injuries it inflicts. Trappers routinely drown, strangle, or crush their victims to preserve the pelt. Third, ethical hunters hunt for food and subsistence while trappers profit from animals and turn public wildlife into a commodity. Fourth, trapping is in direct violation of Tenet 2 (commerce in dead wildlife is eliminated) of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation which is a system of policies and laws that aim to restore and safeguard fish and wildlife and their habitats¹. Fifth, there are no elements of fair chase present in trapping. Fair chase means that hunters do not use any unfair advantages over wild game². This ‘balances’ the skills and equipment of hunters with the animal’s ability to escape². This includes not using motorized vehicles, electronic mating calls, cougar hounds, or shooting animals in a confined space.
Many types of traps currently used in Canada – both lethal and non-lethal – cause severe injuries, distress, or death to target and non-target species³ ⁴ ⁵. Unlike ethical hunters that hunt for food and subsistence, a trapper's main priority is the pelt of the animal and maintaining its quality and value. Thus, once caught, trapping killing methods center around clubbing an animal to death, choking it with a snare, shooting it in the head, or stomping on its chest⁶. If traps are not visited regularly, animals may suffer from exposure, stress, thirst, starvation, gangrene, and predation. A trapped animal can even die from injuries sustained from the trap, such as jelly head or ‘wring-off’ which involves an animal biting off a limb or limbs to escape⁶.
Chapter two identifies the common arguments that are used to support trapping and discusses whether these arguments are valid or not in modern day society. Topics such as the historical significance of trapping, environmental stewardship of trapping, the sustainability of the commercial trapping industry, and trapping as a tool to manage apex predators and other wildlife are explored.
You've reached the end of this series! We hope you feel more informed, and better prepared to discuss the topics covered to help educate those around you.