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The Truth About Bear Trapping

By Bob Noonan

Regarding Question 1, there seems to be widespread misunderstanding about bear trapping.

To start with, the steel-jawed foothold trap is not legal in Maine. Only foot snares or cage traps are allowed. Bear cage traps are expensive, big, culvert-type affairs that have to be moved by vehicle, while a foot snare can be easily carried in one hand, costs about $50, and can be re-used indefinitely. Trappers use them almost exclusively.

Bear trapping is heavily regulated. A special bear trapping permit is required, and is available only to licensed trappers, who must take a 10-hour special training course to get a license. In 2013, only 531 trappers bought a permit. They caught 106 bears, a success rate of 20 percent.

Foot-snared bears do not chew their feet off. That is a deliberate fabrication. The foot snare is very humane, and does not damage the bear’s foot.

The International Organization for Standardization, a highly respected organization with 164 member nations, is the top global reference group for manufacturers. Using injury scores developed by veterinarians, animal welfare groups, and wildlife biologists from many countries, ISO tested foot snares extensively. In the 1997 Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards, ISO certified the foot snare as humane and acceptable for capturing animals without injury.

The foot snare uses a spring and trigger assembly to close a loop of 3/16-inch diameter smooth cable on a bear’s foot. The trigger is placed where a bear will step on it, and a 12-inch diameter loop of cable is laid on the ground around it. When the bear steps into the loop and onto the trigger, the released spring lifts the loop and closes it on the bear’s foot. A sliding one-way lock mechanism prevents the loop from opening. A stop keeps the loop from closing tighter than 2 1/2 inches, letting cub bears, coyotes, raccoons, etc., escape.

The end of the cable opposite the loop is wrapped around a tree, and held in place by cable clamps. It’s attached tightly enough so the bear can’t slide it up the tree by climbing, potentially hurting itself, but loose enough so it can rotate freely around the tree. Several heavy duty swivels in the cable prevent the bear from twisting it, and possibly injuring itself.

Courtesy of Normand Poitras

The bear can only go round and round the tree. Essentially, it is on a leash.

Maine’s nationally famous Bear Study has monitored thousands of bears since it started in 1975. During that time, using the foot snare, it has trapped and released, unharmed, more than 2,700 bears. Many bears have been caught repeatedly, and have shown no physical or behavioral trauma from the experience.

Trapped bears don’t struggle much, and are found sitting quietly at the trap site, often sleeping. Their physical condition is closely studied by biologists, and trap injuries have been statistically non-existent. The bears have to be released completely unharmed for the studies to be effective; foot snares would never be used if they damaged the animals even slightly.

The foot snares the Bear Study program uses are exactly the same traps used by recreational bear trappers. These traps do not cause pain or injury to the bear.

Vote “no” on Question 1.


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Maine Wildlife Conservation Council
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