Mammal Trapping, Wildlife Management, Animal Welfare & International Standards
Edited by Gilbert Proulx
Alpha Wildlife Research & Management Ltd.
287 pages. Free download from:
Reviewed by Merritt Clifton
Wildlife biologist Gilbert Proulx, 68, of Sherwood Park, Alberta, may know more about the technology of trapping animals than anyone else who ever lived.
Having spent 12 winters on trapline patrol as volunteer assistant to a Quebec deputy game warden, 1977-1989, logging more than 50 miles per week on foot detecting and removing illegally placed traplines from posted private land, I can testify first hand that Proulx knows his stuff.
There is not much that Proulx describes and complains about that I have not seen for myself.
Trying to trap windmills
But Proulx also bears a singular resemblance to Don Quixote in his steadfast belief that wildlife trapping can somehow be reformed to meet most humane objections.
This is despite Proulx’s own lifetime of trapping-related research, producing reams of peer-reviewed, academic journal-published criticisms of just about everything associated with trapping that animal advocates find obnoxious, unnecessary, and just plain unconscionably cruel.
The 287-page anthology Mammal Trapping, Wildlife Management, Animal Welfare & International Standards, which Proulx offers through online as a free download, is Proulx’s latest attempt to trap a windmill.
But Proulx was scarcely the first to try to trap this particular windmill, even in Canada.
Long history of futile efforts
Charles D. Niven, born in Scotland, then living in Ottawa, later in South Carolina, and best known as author of a 1967 History of the Humane Movement, formed the Canadian Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals in 1931.
According to the web page of The Fur-Bearers, a Vancouver-based organization descended from the Canadian Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals, “the goal of the group was to promote humanely-obtained furs and to develop a humane trap to replace the common leg-hold trap.”
The name of the organization was shortened to just the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals in 1944
Directed for decades by Clara Van Steenwyk and Nona Webster of Victoria, British Columbia, who ran the organization into their seventies, the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals also in 1944 began funding efforts begun in 1929 by trapper and author Frank Conibear (1896-1988) to develop a “quick-kill” trap.
American Humane endorsed the Conibear trap
Trappers’ Association of British Columbia president Eric Collier field-tested the Conibear trap in 1953 in the Chilcotin region of British Columbia.
This was the same year that the Ottawa-based Canadian Association of Humane Trapping split from the original organization.
Conibear redesigned his trap in 1955, based on Collier’s recommendations.
The Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals paid for the manufacture of 50 prototypes. The trap manufacturer Woodstream introduced the Conibear trap as a catalog offering in 1957.
The Canadian Association of Humane Trapping replaced leghold traps with Conibear traps for free, to help them catch on.
By 1961 the Conibear trap was even endorsed by the American Humane Association. Queen Elizabeth II in 1970 honored Frank Conibear in person for inventing the so-called humane trap.
But the Conibear trap is no more “humane” than a leghold trap
But circa 1970, George and Bunty Clements, initially of Hart Lake, British Columbia, and later longtime residents of Langley, British Columbia, succeeded Van Steenwyk as directors of the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals.
Reviewing films of Conibear traps in use, George and Bunty Clements realized that this so-called “humane trap” actually worked much like an old-fashioned leghold trap most of the time. They eventually retitled the organization The Fur-Bearers, and reoriented it toward total opposition to fur trapping.
Gilbert Proulx began his trapping research around the same time (1981) that George Clements (1926-2010) broke with the Humane Trapping Committee, sponsored by the British Columbian government, over the question of whether fur trapping could ever be “humane.”
Over the next 40 years Proulx observed much that Clements had before him, and had described in similar terms.
“Inbred animal activists fight inbred wildlife biologists”
Opens Proulx in his preface to Mammal Trapping, Wildlife Management, Animal Welfare & International Standards, “An animal captured for several hours in a restraining trap, injured and anxious, is certainly concerned about its fate.
“Naturalists are also concerned about the welfare of trapped mammals,” Proulx continues, “and this is not new. In his 1926 book entitled Animals, naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton reported about the horror of a steel trap set with a spring pole that jerks the game into the air and keeps it hanging by a leg through long days and nights in all types of weathers, and the lack of ‘humanity’ of steel traps.”
Recalls Proulx, “In 1989, I pointed out with my co-author Morley Barrett that the issue of ‘humaneness’ has surfaced generation after generation, and now ‘inbred animal activists’ fight against ‘inbred wildlife biologists’ who support steel leghold traps.
Governments & fur trade ignored reform efforts
“It is out of concern for the welfare of trapped mammals,” Proulx says, “that Alpha Wildlife Research & Management held its first symposium on mammal trapping in 1997 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. This was an opportunity for scientists to discuss advancements in mammal trapping technology and describe protocols used to assess the welfare of trapped animals. This was followed by the release of the book Mammal Trapping in 1999, which I edited.
“Unfortunately,” Proulx acknowledges, “little of this information was retained by government officials and the fur trade when they developed the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards, which was signed by the European Community, Canada and Russia.
Trappers ignored reform efforts too
“Such standards were vehemently criticized by many wildlife professionals over the years,” Proulx recounts, “and in 2020, a few colleagues and I pointed out that the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards did not represent state-of-the-art trapping technology when it was signed in 1997, and it definitely failed to properly address animal welfare in trapping.
“Individuals involved in pest control and fur trapping dismissed or downplayed the concerns raised by professionals, naturalists and conservation organizations about mammal trapping,” Proulx objects, “and claimed that all these people were unrealistic and unpractical.”
The anthology Mammal Trapping, Wildlife Management, Animal Welfare & International Standards emerged out of “a virtual symposium” that Proulx organized in November 2021 to try try again.
“Who traps mammals?”
Proulx begins his own contributions, beyond the preface, by asking “Who traps mammals?”
Proulx answers himself with a five-part discussion of indigenous peoples, fur trappers, pest and predator controllers, scientific researchers, and wildlife managers.
Much of this discussion is predicated on outdated presumptions.
“In Canada, subsistence harvesting regimes remain important to some aboriginal peoples, particularly those living in the isolated regions of the north. These aboriginal communities prefer these lifestyles,” Proulx says, citing the 1986 report of the Canadian government Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs & Northern Development.
Defence of the Fur Trade
What Proulx fails to mention is that the content of this report was practically dictated by a May 1985 Canadian government Department of External Affairs discussion paper entitled Defence of the Fur Trade.
Defence of the Fur Trade postulated that the most persuasive defense of the Canadian fur trapping, farming, and sealing industries, especially in the European market, might be to hide them behind the environmentally friendly image of Native Americans, even though indigenous trappers, fur farmers, and sealers then accounted for less than 8% of total fur and sealing employment, and 5% of fur and sealing income.
Acknowledges Proulx, “Wage employment, [access to] a wide range of consumer goods, and more and more aboriginal people moving to cities are among the factors that caused a significant decrease in trapping among indigenous peoples” between the appearance of the 1986 report, questionable as it was, and the present.
“The market value of fur is small, almost insignificant”
Further acknowledges Proulx, “relative to other forms of land use, the market value of fur is small, almost insignificant. Trappers represent a socio-political force that may be used to protect wilderness areas from industrial development. However, contrary to claims made by some people and organizations,” specifically the Alberta and British Columbia Trappers’ Associations, “trappers are not wildlife managers. Fur harvesting is only one tool among others used by wildlife biologists to monitor and manage wild animal populations.
“Generally,” Proulx admits, “trappers do not monitor the status of populations, natality and mortality rates, age and sex ratios, and home ranges vs. habitat changes.”
In short, trappers trap whatever fur-bearing animals they can, oblivious to any ecological considerations whatever, along with complete indifference toward animal suffering.
“Trapping is used extensively in the removal of animals that impact on the wellbeing of human populations, their property, and their activities,” Proulx continues.
Proulx appears to accept without question that such trapping is necessary, in disregard of alternatives including more securely storing food crops, a wide array of advances in predator and pest deterrence, and the advent of use of rodent contraceptive baits instead of traps and poisons.
“Mammal trapping is vital to scientific research and management as it allows wildlife biologists to collect information on population dynamics, health, and genetics,” Proulx claims, but advances in DNA analysis today enable biologists to obtain more information from a few scat samples than they could get several generations ago from an entire carcass.
“The management of furbearers,” Proulx explains, “involves the manipulation of their populations and their habitats by wildlife biologists who develop programs to monitor the biological status of each species and maintain viable populations of each species,” in part to “optimize the harvest of the furbearer resource.”
Such management, however, would not be necessary if fur trapping ceased.
Animal welfare & animal rights
“Animal welfare and animal rights organizations have developed and represent a major challenge to the wild fur industry,” Proulx admits.
“Unfortunately,” Proulx says, “pro-trapping agencies fail to differentiate animal welfare groups from animal rights organizations. While these organizations may [both] express anti-trapping sentiments, there is a major difference in their agenda,” Proulx explains, yet misses two fundamental points.
The first of these points is that regardless of other differences, over the past 50 years or more there has evolved unanimous opposition to fur trapping, fur farming, and fur-wearing among all animal welfare and animal rights organizations that enjoy significant credibility among either most animal advocates or the general public.
Public opinion rejects fur trapping in any form
The second is that even if an animal welfare organization closely associated with animal use industries, the American Humane Association for instance, were to be persuaded through blackmail or bribery to again endorse fur trapping in any way, shape, or form, that organization would now be forcefully rejected by public opinion.
Indeed, the once mighty American Humane Association, founded in 1877, was eclipsed by the upstart Humane Society of the United States, founded in 1954, even before the rise of the animal rights movement in the mid-1970s.
This eclipse occurred because the animal welfare donor base lost confidence in an organization that promoted Conibear traps, endorsed rodeos, and urged local humane societies to decompress dogs and cats to death instead of encouraging spay/neuter.
Proulx briefly introduces “compassionate conservation,” describing it as “an interdisciplinary field which promotes the treatment of all wildlife with respect, justice, and compassion. With the guiding principles of first, do no harm, individuals matter, inclusivity, and peaceful coexistence,” Proulx explains, “compassionate conservation aims to find solutions for conservation practitioners that minimize harming wildlife.
“Using these guideline principles, wildlife management and research programs encompassing the capture, handling, killing, or translocation of animals may not be acceptable,” Proulx assesses.
“Such strategies may not be adequate to address conflicts that are detrimental to people or other animals, or when non-harmful ways of avoiding those impacts are not currently available,” Proulx believes.
Conservation biology concerned about animal welfare in what world?
Meanwhile, Proulx asserts, “The welfare of individuals and the ethical treatment of animals are part of conservation biology. Animal welfare is incredibly important to conservation,” Proulx claims.
Yet the whole field of “compassionate conservation” might not exist if conservation biologists from the time of Ernest Thompson Seton, John Burroughs, and William Temple Hornaday to the present leadership of the Nature Conservancy, National Audubon Society, and Sierra Club had not for more than 100 years promoted wholesale killing by any means possible of any species they disliked and misunderstood, whether predators in the early 20th century or so-called “invasive species” in the early 21st century.
Finding any attention paid to animal welfare, beyond superficial lip service, in the entire corpus of conservation literature before the advent of “compassionate conservation” is somewhat more difficult than finding diamonds in a dung heap.
“Not all explanations are valid”
“The philosophy of compassionate conservationists should not be confounded with the views of wildlife professionals who have expressed their concerns about undue pain and suffering in mammal trapping,” Proulx says, but Proulx himself is the one wildlife professional in that company, other than those employed by animal advocacy groups, coming to the notice of this reviewer in more than 50 years of reporting about animal issues involving animal trapping.
“Mammal trapping is being justified by many explanations,” Proulx writes, “ranging from sustenance to health concerns among human populations, and disease prevention and management of animal populations, to religious beliefs where humans have authority over the animal kingdom, and to crusades to save the world from predators who would attack people, and destroy livestock and game.
“Not all explanations are valid, and anecdotal and non-scientific information may lead to a misunderstanding of the role of trapping in today’s world,” Proulx asserts, yet Mammal Trapping, Wildlife Management, Animal Welfare & International Standards itself could be edited down to as strong a denunciation of trapping as anything in animal rights literature.
Where have you heard Proulx’s criticisms before?
Cites Proulx, “The continued use of unacceptable trapping devices and the protection of the ‘old ways’ by trappers and pest controllers are largely the causes of so much controversy in mammal trapping. For example, trappers claim that killing neck snares are humane and quickly kill grey wolves, in spite of 40 years of scientific findings proving that these antiquated trapping devices cause pain and suffering.
“Trappers continue to support bounty programs for the control of predators, but decades of scientific assessments have shown that these programs are ineffective in controlling predators, cause undue suffering, are non-selective, and jeopardize wildlife communities.
“The use of antiquated technology and ineffective wildlife management programs result in the denunciation of trapping devices that do not meet any standards such as killing neck snares, glue boards, steel leghold traps, and unselective trapping devices that endanger the persistence of species at risk.”
“Trapping should not be allowed”
Proulx also mentions “trapping standards and regulations that cause distress and undue suffering to animals, and predator control and research programs that are unjustified and unethical.”
Says Proulx, “I believe that mammal trapping should be allowed when, and only when, the capture of animals will not impact on the persistence of populations and the welfare of individuals. In other words, if traps are unselective and risk to capture species at risk trapping should not be allowed.
“If traps cause severe injuries and stress in restraining traps, or long and painful deaths, trapping should not be allowed.”
Taken at face value, Proulx appears to believe that about 99.9% of all trapping as presently practiced should not be allowed, and it is difficult even to imagine the exceptions.
Where Proulx would allow trapping
Proulx, however, suggests that, “In research, trapping may occur wherever it is necessary to sample populations; it can therefore be conducted in urban and suburban areas with restraining traps, and in the wilderness with either killing or restraining trap systems.
“Fur trapping,” Proulx believes “should be limited to wilderness areas that are remote from urban and sub-urban areas, and away from wildlife reserves to allow populations to expand from protected areas into surrounding landscapes.”
Omitted from this recommendation is that most fur trappers over the past seventy years or so have been suburban dwellers, who typically prefer to set and check traps on their way to or from jobs or school, in easily accessible locations––roadside ditches, for instance, along with power line and pipeline rights-of-way, railroad tracks, culverts, and public parks.
Further, over the past half century in particular, the greatest concentrations of fur-bearing animals, including beaver, muskrat, fox, raccoon, and coyote, have come to live in suburban habitats.
The notion of the trapper working in “wilderness areas that are remote from urban and sub-urban areas” belongs to the same era as the notion of farmed animals coming from environments of fresh air and sunshine.
Like the image of Old MacDonald’s Farm, the image of the wilderness trapper today exists chiefly as propaganda for an inherently cruel and exploitive industry, while most fur garments are made from animals who spend their whole lives in stinking dark steel-clad barns.
Broom sweeps away snares
Proulx in his introduction to Mammal Trapping, Wildlife Management, Animal Welfare & International Standards points particularly toward chapters 7 and 8.
Chapter 7, “Some Thoughts on The Impact of Trapping on Mammal Welfare with Emphasis on Snares,” comes from British veterinary science professor Donald M. Broom.
Offers Broom, “The term humane has been used for many years in science and law in relation to the management and killing of domestic animals, and should be used in the same way in relation to capturing and killing wild animals. Snares do not operate humanely, either as restraining or as killing traps as the pain, fear, mortality and morbidity of animals caught in snares is high. Animals left in snares are susceptible to thirst, hunger, further injury and attack by predators, especially if in the trap for many hours or days.
“Use of snares is never justified”
“The magnitude of poor welfare when animals are caught in snares varies,” Broom concedes, “but is always high in comparison with all other regulated killing. Snares are inherently indiscriminate and commonly catch non-target animals, including protected species, so can have negative effects on conservation efforts. The regulation and monitoring of the use of snares, including the methods used to kill animals that are alive after snaring, is probably impossible.
“Some methods of pest control and other capture and killing of animals have such extreme effects on the welfare of the animals,” Broom believes, “that regardless of the potential benefits, their use is never justified. The use of snares is in this category.”
This is exactly what anti-fur literature has been pointing out all along.
Why does Proulx pretend to defend the indefensible?
Chapter 8, by Pauline Feldstein and Proulx himself, further rips into the inadequacy of the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards.
In all, more than half of the footnotes in Mammal Trapping, Wildlife Management, Animal Welfare & International Standards reference Proulx himself, i.e. approximately 1,050 of about 2,000 total.
Proulx so clearly stands in opposition to the views and attitudes of most wildlife managers, who have mostly ignored his work for decades, that one wonders why he still imagines he stands somewhere among them.