Dangerous Animal Traps Require Clearer Signage

Just over a year ago, my dog was killed in an unmarked body-gripping trap (conibear) that had been placed on a designated public land access, near the edge (11-27-2016, Watts Flats Wildlife Management Area, DEC call for service #16-023790). Intended for a beaver, it caught my dog instead. I tried desperately, but could not remove the steel device from Axl’s head. He did not die quickly. DEC officers assured me the trap was legal, of legal size and placement. Until then, I was not aware that body-gripping traps are not restricted to water, that body-gripping traps are permitted on designated footpaths and accesses of certain public-use lands, and that a body-gripping trap, of legal size and placement, is capable of killing a dog. I did not realize the DEC, in its management of wildlife populations, issues vehicle access permits (TRPs) to trappers, allowing for some public-use areas and their gated accesses to be more thoroughly trapped…as in this case. Axl was my treasured companion, words cannot express how upsetting this has been. I miss him every day. Walking on a public land access, any time of year, should not result in such unforeseen tragedy.

For those who are not yet aware, New York state allows traps, including these deadly body-gripping types, to be placed in, on and in close proximity to designated roadway and footpath accesses, trails, parking and wheelchair accessible areas of state-owned public-use lands known as (Fish and) Wildlife Management Areas. In all other such lands in which trapping is permitted, traps are restricted from within 100 feet of a designated footpath, “except in Wildlife Management Areas.” “Trapping Regulations for New York State” provides the only reference to this exception…but who, other than a trapper, reads trapping regulations? Most visitors to these areas are not trappers, most are not familiar with traps, trapping, trapping regulations and annual regional trapping seasons. Trapping is only one of several recreations for which WMAs and their accesses are intended. State-owned, DEC-managed and located throughout the State of New York, WMAs offer bird, habitat and wildlife diversity not often found in other public lands. The DEC, through its website, provides a map and informational webpage for each WMA. These pages show access locations, trails, parking areas, wheelchair accessibility, kiosks and hunting/observation blinds, and encourage the public’s use for various wildlife-related activities, including bird viewing, hiking and wildlife observation…check them out.

Several years ago, my beagle, Casey, was caught in scent-baited foothold trap that had been placed near the “trail-markered” access path of another local WMA, Chautauqua Lake Fish and Wildlife Management Area at Tom’s Point (across from the US post office in Stow). He was on a leash. A leash offers little protection from undisclosed traps placed on and near footpaths. Despite his biting, thrashing and shrieking, my sister and I, knowing nothing of traps, were eventually able to free him. According to law enforcement, this, too, was a legal trap. In WMAs, use of discretion when placing traps is a recommendation, not a legal obligation.

I realize the DEC employs trapping, through private individuals, in its management of wildlife populations…but must wildlife be managed on an access path, given its surrounding acreage? Watts Flats WMA, itself, comprises more than 1,300 sq. acres of wetland. Shouldn’t methods for managing wildlife in public-use lands be compatible with public use? Trappers are not even required to mark or “make noticeable” the presence of their traps. How are traps avoided when hidden from view? Why, at the very least, are warnings not posted at access entrances, particularly when vehicle access is issued to trappers? Current DEC signage, posted in some WMAs, includes the statement “hunting, fishing and trapping permitted except where prohibited by posted notice”…which, in its ambiguity and lack of detail, does not distinguish these Areas from other public lands in which trapping is permitted (and restricted from designated footpaths). An adequate warning would have spared my dog’s life.

I have always appreciated state-provided conservation lands and New York is generous in providing them, but why would a state allow trapping on designated public land accesses?…without informing public land users? An access, itself, is an invitation. Traps placed in access areas compromise public safety and public land accessibility for all other recreations. And why, in all public lands, given the severity of the consequences, are body-gripping traps not restricted to water…where muskrats, mink, beavers and otters spend most of their time? Surely, hunting dogs have been caught in land-set conibears. Traps are even permitted in drainage ditches along public roads. Current state trapping policies, when applied to public lands, are misleading and damaging to more than furbearers, and should be changed. I have asked state officials and area legislators to please consider my position.

Jeannine Miller is an Ashville resident.