According to an article recently published by The Wildlife News, wolf and other trappers in Idaho reported 246 “nontarget captures” during the 2011-12 trapping season. (“Nontarget capture” is a euphemism for animals caught, injured, and often killed by traps not meant for them.) Of these, 118 were killed. Of the 116 released alive, the extent of their injuries, and how long they remained alive, is unclear. The fate of the remaining 12 is unknown.
The summaries provided by the state revealed that few, if any, species are immune to “incidental” capture. The (reported) nontarget animals trapped in Idaho included dozens of deer and elk (28 killed), 4 moose, 11 bobcats (5 killed), 26 mountain lions (13 killed), eagles, ravens (1 killed), a goose (killed), a goshawk, and numerous domestic pets (2 killed). A black bear was caught, and killed, even though the trapping season occurs during the winter.
Perhaps most disturbing was the nontarget capture of 22 fishers, 15 of which died. In 2009, several groups petitioned to list Northern Rockies fishers under the Endangered Species Act, due to declining numbers and increased habitat fragmentation. Even the Idaho Department of Fish and Game considers fishers “critically imperiled” statewide and has not allowed a fisher trapping season since the 1930s. Yet fishers continue to die in traps in Idaho.
Such is the nature of trapping. It is inherently indiscriminate. To allow trapping, to engage in trapping, is to accept the fact that many animals—from elk to goshawks to golden retrievers—will unintentionally be caught, suffer, and die. Adjusting pan tensions on foothold traps or setting stops on snares may help, but still fails to prevent hundreds of nontarget captures, injuries and deaths (of abundant and endangered species alike) each year.
That reality is particularly concerning when it occurs at the hands of publicly funded government trappers. Wildlife Services, an agency within the United States Department of Agriculture, spends tens of millions of taxpayer dollars each year to kill millions of animals (including a chilling 98% of all predators it interacts with)—largely by trapping (and often on public land). According to Wildlife Services’ own data, thousands of animals across the country die unintentionally as a result.
Whether by private individuals or public agencies, as long as trapping continues, so will the “nontarget” carnage. 26 mountain lions. 4 moose. 15 dead fishers. They may not have been the targets. But any animal killed by a trap that was intentionally placed, intentionally set, and intentionally left for days at a time before being checked (as most are), is hardly an accident.