Trapping on Wildlife Refuges

The National Wildlife Refuge System ~ Origins & Mission

President Theodore Roosevelt established the first National Wildlife Refuge on Pelican Island, Florida, in 1903 to protect imperiled bird species from the commercial feather trade. Since then, 550 refuges totaling more than 150 million acres have been added to the refuge system.

Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) contains the most comprehensive and diverse collection of fish and wildlife habitats in the world, harboring more than 240 endangered species, over 700 kinds of birds, 220 mammal species, 250 reptile and amphibian species, and 200 kinds of fish. The mission of the NWRS is “to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.”

Current Status of Trapping on the National Wildlife Refuge System

A survey conducted by the FWS revealed that more than half of all refuges allow trapping of wildlife. Trapping on the NWRS is allowed for “predator control, “facilities management,” “population management,” and for “recreation, commerce and subsistence,” among other designated purposes.  Most trapping on refuges occurs for “commercial” and “recreational” purposes by private individuals according to the FWS.

Of the 280 refuges allowing trapping, 171 utilized Conibear kill-type devices, 140 utilized steel-jaw leghold traps, 74 utilized kill snares, and 66 utilized “other body-hold devices.” The primary “target” animals trapped on refuges include raccoons, beavers, foxes, mink, coyotes, wolves, and bobcats.”

Because body-gripping traps are inherently non-selective, other animals are also incidentally trapped. According to the FWS, the primary non-target species trapped on refuges include river otters, rabbits, domestic dogs and cats, birds, and bears. Many of these animals die in the traps (if caught in a kill-type trap or strangulation neck snare) or as a result of trap-related injuries.

Public Opposition to Trapping on the National Wildlife Refuge System

Public opinion surveys show the vast majority of Americans believe trapping and the use of body-gripping traps should be prohibited on all refuges. A national Decision Research public opinion poll showed that 79% of Americans believe trapping on National Wildlife Refuges should be prohibited, while 88% believe wildlife and habitat preservation should be the highest priority of the refuge system. Humane concerns aside, the use of leghold traps, neck snares, and other body-gripping devices poses a serious hazard to non-target wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. Trappers, who comprise less than one tenth of 1% of the population, already have access to millions of acres of public and private lands outside the refuge system for their activities. As lands specifically set aside to provide animals a safe home, refuges should not permit use of cruel body-gripping traps.

*Most of the data contained herein is from a 1997 survey conducted by the FWS, and AWI’s attempts to obtain similar, current data from the Department of the Interior have been unsuccessful.

The National Wildlife Refuge System ~ Origins & Mission

President Theodore Roosevelt established the first National Wildlife Refuge on Pelican Island, Florida, in 1903 to protect imperiled bird species from the commercial feather trade. Since then, 550 refuges totaling more than 150 million acres have been added to the refuge system.

Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) contains the most comprehensive and diverse collection of fish and wildlife habitats in the world, harboring more than 240 endangered species, over 700 kinds of birds, 220 mammal species, 250 reptile and amphibian species, and 200 kinds of fish. The mission of the NWRS is “to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.”

Current Status of Trapping on the National Wildlife Refuge System

A survey conducted by the FWS revealed that more than half of all refuges allow trapping of wildlife. Trapping on the NWRS is allowed for “predator control, “facilities management,” “population management,” and for “recreation, commerce and subsistence,” among other designated purposes.  Most trapping on refuges occurs for “commercial” and “recreational” purposes by private individuals according to the FWS.

Of the 280 refuges allowing trapping, 171 utilized Conibear kill-type devices, 140 utilized steel-jaw leghold traps, 74 utilized kill snares, and 66 utilized “other body-hold devices.” The primary “target” animals trapped on refuges include raccoons, beavers, foxes, mink, coyotes, wolves, and bobcats.”

Because body-gripping traps are inherently non-selective, other animals are also incidentally trapped. According to the FWS, the primary non-target species trapped on refuges include river otters, rabbits, domestic dogs and cats, birds, and bears. Many of these animals die in the traps (if caught in a kill-type trap or strangulation neck snare) or as a result of trap-related injuries.

Public Opposition to Trapping on the National Wildlife Refuge System

Public opinion surveys show the vast majority of Americans believe trapping and the use of body-gripping traps should be prohibited on all refuges. A national Decision Research public opinion poll showed that 79% of Americans believe trapping on National Wildlife Refuges should be prohibited, while 88% believe wildlife and habitat preservation should be the highest priority of the refuge system. Humane concerns aside, the use of leghold traps, neck snares, and other body-gripping devices poses a serious hazard to non-target wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. Trappers, who comprise less than one tenth of 1% of the population, already have access to millions of acres of public and private lands outside the refuge system for their activities. As lands specifically set aside to provide animals a safe home, refuges should not permit use of cruel body-gripping traps.

*Most of the data contained herein is from a 1997 survey conducted by the FWS, and AWI’s attempts to obtain similar, current data from the Department of the Interior have been unsuccessful."

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