In 2016, Governor Branstad signed into law a requirement that the Department of Natural Resources set a season and daily catch limit for commercial turtle trapping.
Zachary Boyden-Holmes/The Register
Iowa doesn’t do enough to ensure bobcats, coyotes, beavers and other wildlife are humanely trapped each year, a national animal rights group says.
The lack of stricter trapping rules can result in animals slowly dying by drowning, exposure, shock, blood loss or being attacked by predators, according to Born Free USA.
“Many of these traps don’t result in the death of the animal. They stay in these traps, sometimes” for days, said Prashant Khetan, CEO of the Washington, D.C., based group.
“We’ve seen evidence of animals who try to gnaw off their limbs to get free,” he said.
Born Free gave Iowa and 13 other states an “F” after looking at the traps each state allows, trapper education and reporting requirements, and the number of species that are hunted.
But Craig Sweet, president of the Iowa Trappers Association, says the state’s rules do ensure animals are humanely trapped, pointing to a requirement that traps be checked every 24 hours.
“The report says that animals are starving, dehydrated, bleeding to death. That’s just untrue,” he said. “With the trap laws that we have, the animals are in there less than six to eight hours.”
Fur profits drive trappers
Iowa allows hunters to trap a dozen fur-bearing animals, including coyote, mink, muskrat, badger, red and gray fox, beaver, bobcats and otters.
Most trapping seasons run from November to January.
Khetan said profits drive most trapping, adding that Iowa should limit how many traps a hunter can use each season.
Iowa’s only trapping limits are on bobcats and otters.
Last winter, trappers and hunters harvested 142,794 fur-bearing animals that were valued at close to $730,000, based on Iowa DNR data.
It was 4 percent fewer animals than 2015-16, when fur values were 21 percent higher.
The furs, often used to trim coats, are primarily sold in Russia and China.
Vince Evelsizer, a furbearer biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said the value of fur does drive much of Iowa’s trapping, but so, too, does tradition and conservation.
Sweet and Evelsizer said trapping helps manage wildlife populations — an important tool in preventing disease.
For example, raccoons that contract distemper die slow, painful deaths. “It’s a nasty disease,” Evelsizer said. “Raccoons wander listlessly around for … seven to 10 days, spreading it to others,” potentially pets if they’re not vaccinated.
DNR unaware of children being caught in traps
Born Free says Iowa has too few restrictions on the kinds of traps used — and where they can be used.
The group gave Iowa failing grades for allowing snares, leghold and “conibear” traps, saying they can easily capture unintended species.
“Household pets are being trapped, endangered species are being caught, and in some instances, humans are being caught in these traps … even kids,” Khetan said.
“There are reasons why this should be concerning to all of us,” he said.
But Sweet said the traps allowed in Iowa don’t have “teeth” that can severely injure an animal.
And DNR’s Evelsizer said trappers are required to stay away from occupied homes and take other precautions.
He said he is unaware of people, especially children, being caught in traps in Iowa.
Khetan said his group has no way to fully know how many animals are unintentionally trapped because Iowa and other states have no reporting requirements.
Iowa knocked for bobcat, river otter trapping
Born Free gives Iowa poor scores for allowing bobcats and river otters to be hunted.
“It doesn’t take too many steps to become endangered … especially with open-season hunting,” Khetan said.
After mostly disappearing in Iowa, bobcats were a threatened species until 2003, when Iowa populations had naturally expanded, moving in from surrounding states.
Now, Iowa’s bobcat numbers are estimated between 5,000 and 6,000. Hunting resumed in 2007.
The animals can only be trapped in some southern and western counties in Iowa. And hunters are limited to one per season.
River otters were reintroduced in Iowa between 1985 and 2003, after being mostly eliminated. Only two otters can be harvested each season.
Group wants clubbing, drowning banned
The Born Free report criticized Iowa and other states for not dictating how animals should be killed once they’re caught.
Khetan said animals now are clubbed and drowned. “We wouldn’t normally advocate shooting, but it’s better than drowning,” he said.
“We want anything that brings them instant” relief, he said.
Sweet said most trappers use a small-caliber gun to kill trapped animals, although some water animals could be drowned.
Khetan said the group believes that trapping is a “barbaric practice” that should end.
But he added that’s it’s an unlikely outcome.
Instead, Khetan said the group hopes to push states to strengthen rules around trapping. “We’re trying to find ways to make it more humane,” he said.
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