Trapping Reform Comes to Oregon

by Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director

On June 17, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission took a major and long overdue step forward in reforming trapping regulations in the state. After a marathon hearing that extended more than three hours, the ODFW Commission voted 6-1 to require trappers using live-animal restraining traps, such as leg-hold traps, to check the traps every 48 hours. This change will help reduce the time animals spend suffering in traps and increase the likelihood that trapped non-target animals can be safely released. 

Coyote in a field of tall grass and flowers
Coyote, photo by Hayley Crews.

Oregon has long had some of the weakest trap-check requirements in the United States. Prior to the Commission vote on the 17th, Oregon allowed some animals to be left in restraining traps for as long as 7 days and in kill traps for as long as 30 days. This stands in stark contrast to 36 states that currently have either 24-hour or daily trap checks for all wildlife. The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies instructs new trappers to check traps daily, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends checking traps once every 24 hours, and the American Association of Mammalogists suggests twice daily or even more frequently.

Change has come slowly in Oregon on this issue. Bird Alliance of Oregon and partners such as the Humane Society of the United States have been working for trap-check reform since the 1990s. Trapping interests have successfully stalled efforts for decades with the goal of maintaining the status quo. Most recently, an ODFW-appointed trap-check task force, which included Bird Alliance of Oregon, HSUS, and the Center for Biological Diversity, was disbanded without making any recommendations after trapping interests bogged the process down, contesting whether wild animals caught in traps without food, water, or shelter and exposed to predators and the elements for extended periods, suffer. History appeared to be about to repeat itself when ODFW staff used the collapse of this task force as a basis for recommending only nominal changes to the trap-check requirements to the ODFW Commission. 

Special thanks to ODFW Commissioner Jill Zarnowitz, who brought forward the 48-hour amendment and to both Commissioner Zarnowitz and former Commissioner Gregg Wolley, who led the charge for ODFW to revisit this issue. 

The solution is not perfect. There is still work to be done. At the same hearing, the commission reduced the trap-check requirements for “quick kill” traps such as neck snares from 30 to 14 days. These too should be brought into alignment with restraining traps. While some may ask what difference checking a trap makes to an animal that is quickly killed, the facts are that quick kill traps capture non-target wildlife and domestic pets and they do not always kill animals quickly. There also remains a strong case to be made for bringing trap check requirements down to 24 hours. 

Nonetheless, the ODFW Commission vote on June 17 represents a major step forward. Traps are cruel and indiscriminate; there is simply no way around that fact. Leaving a wild or domestic animal in a restraining device without food, water, or shelter and exposed to predators and the elements is the definition of suffering. To the degree that it is done at all, it must be done in a way that minimizes that suffering to the maximum extent possible and maximizes the potential that non-target animals are released without harm. 

Progress sometimes comes slowly on these types of issues. However, after decades of logjam, the tide seems to be turning. In 2019, the Oregon Legislature banned sodium cyanide devices (also known as “cyanide bombs”) to kill predator species. This year we have made meaningful progress on trap checks. The result is a safer and more humane Oregon landscape for people, pets, and wildlife.