Trappers on Cusp of Victory in Massachusetts

Jim SpencerIn 1996, a voter referendum known as “Question 1” bit a hunk out of Massachusetts trappers. When the smoke cleared, Massachusetts trappers had been stripped of their legal right to use, manufacture or even possess any traps within the state’s boundaries except for “…common mouse and rat traps, nets and box or cage traps that confine a whole animal without grasping any part of it.” In other words, just about everything.

Also included in Q1 were penalty provisions for violating this new law — a fine of $300 to $1,000 per day, per trap, and a possibility of six months imprisonment.

So, for the past 13 years, our trapper friends in Massachusetts have been limping along with cage traps and rat traps (which, incidentally, are only legal for weasels). No wonder the Massachusetts Trappers Association’s membership is only 130 in a state whose total population approaches 6½ million. I’d have quit too, or, more likely, moved.

Now, though, Massachusetts trappers have a good shot at getting their tools back. Some of them, anyway.

House Bill 736 proposes to re-legalize Best Management Practice-approved traps (including bodygrip traps) in Massachusetts. There are other caveats besides the mandate of BMP-approved traps. They are requiring three swivels on footholds, requiring a shock spring, restricting inside jaw spread to 5 3/8 inches for land traps, requiring a pan tension device for all land traps, allowing only padded jaw traps for land use, allowing no more than a 24-inch chain, cable or wire between trap and anchor point. Stuff like that.

Another requirement of HB 736 is that trappers must satisfactorily complete a certification process approved by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA), the organization that came up with the idea of trapping BMPs in the first place. (I have some reservations about the entire BMP concept and process, but that’s fodder for another cannon and we’ll talk about that in some future editorial.)

Today, the subject matter is the possibility Massachusetts trappers will once again be able to come back up into the light with the rest of us. If it passes, HB 736 still places a bunch of restrictions on trappers, but it’s a lot better than what they have to work with right now.

This reinstatement of trapping in Massachusetts is far from a done deal, of course. Our loony and perpetual enemy, PETA, is in the hunt big time, spreading their usual lies and propaganda. Check out their Action Alert Web site on this issue by doing a Google search on “PETA + Massachusetts + trapping.” You’ll find it.

You already know what it says, though, same as I do. Here’s a sampling: “Leghold and bodygripping traps are inherently cruel and indiscriminate and are currently banned in Massachusetts for good reason!” “…any legislation that would overturn the current ban on these cruel devices would result in a major setback for wildlife living in Massachusetts…” “Terrified foxes, coyotes and other animals who become caught in leghold traps suffer searing pain when the traps’ jaws snap shut…”

And so on and on, their usual bleeding-heart claptrap. But the thing is, this stuff works unless it’s countered by rebuttals from our side, and rebuttals are expensive. That’s where the anti-trapping folks like PETA beat us; they’re better at raising funds than we are.

I know, I know, it seems like every time a trapper turns around, he’s bumping into somebody with his hand out. NTA, FTA, state trapper associations, youth trapper workshops, benefit auctions, raffles, the list of those asking for donations never seems to end. They’re all worthy causes, but in a time of soaring unemployment and plunging fur prices, it’s hard to keep giving.

But to quote a friend of mine on the forums: “This is the battle ground, boys and girls. We win here, and the voice of reason will have spoken! The HSUS and PETA use Massachusetts as an example of SUCCESS, but every day, wildlife incidents make it harder and harder to live with the results of their deceitful propaganda and campaign. We have to contact these guys and let them know we SUPPORT THEM!!!”

It can’t be said any better than that. This situation in Massachusetts is unique. It’s not an effort to defeat an anti-trapping bill, but rather an effort to promote a pro-trapping one. In 1996, anti-trapping forces duped Massachusetts voters with a campaign that included a three-legged dog (the dog lost its leg in a run-in with an automobile, but that fact wasn’t made public).

Well-meaning but woefully misinformed voters banned most traps from the Commonwealth. Today, though, most of those who voted “yes” on Q1 and got trapping banned say they would reconsider.

This time, however, the issue isn’t on the ballot. It will be decided by the state legislature. If you live in Massachusetts or know folks who do, now’s the time to remind those state legislators about the millions of dollars Massachusetts residents have lost due to wildlife-related damage (by beavers, mostly, but also damage caused by ’coons, coyotes and other species). Now’s the time to tell them responsible trapping regulations and responsible trappers can help.

If HB 736 passes in Massachusetts, it will be a huge victory for all trappers, and a rallying point for the cause. It will give trappers in New Jersey, Colorado, Arizona and elsewhere some much-needed ammunition in getting restrictions lifted in their states.

This one is too important to let slide. Get involved.

Jim Spencer, of Calico Rock, Ark., is executive editor of T&PC. To contact Jim, send e-mails to

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