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Best Management Practices and Trapping

By Clifford Brown

Red FoxMany folks in West Virginia are familiar with the concept of Best Management Practices ( BMPs ) commonly used in agriculture and forestry. Few are aware that state wildlife agencies and trappers are developing BMPs for trapping furbearers .

In 1996, the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies began the program to develop BMPs for trapping in the United States. Goals of the BMP program are to:

Identify practical traps and trapping techniques that improve efficiency, selectivity and the welfare of trapped animals.
Promote regulated trapping as a modern wildlife management tool.
Provide wildlife management professionals with information to evaluate trapping systems in the United States.
Instill public confidence in, and maintain public support for, wildlife management and trapping through distribution of science-based information.
Provide specifications for traps that meet BMP criteria for wildlife species in various regions of the United States.
Develop a reference guide and recommendations for those interested in the continued improvement of traps and trapping systems.

To date, 32 states have participated in the BMP process, and over 50 commercially available trap types have been tested in the field. In West Virginia, the DNR Wildlife Resources Section coordinates trap testing. Experienced trappers and technicians selected by the DNR with assistance from the West Virginia Trappers Association, conduct field tests of traps during the regulated trapping season. The BMP program will identify traps and techniques that address the welfare of animals and allow for the efficient, selective, safe and practical capture of furbearers.

Commonly used trap models, and modifications or designs that may improve animal welfare were given priority for testing. Some of the modifications include padded jaws, laminated jaws, double jaws and offset jaws. New designs include devices like the Belisle foot snare, Egg trap, and the Lil-Grizz-Get-RZ , a trap tested in West Virginia. By the end of the 2003-04 season, information will have been collected in regard to many West Virginia furbearers including beaver, bobcat, fisher, gray fox, red fox, mink, muskrat, opossum, skunk and weasel.

For many, the perception of traps and trapping is from a past era of unregulated methods and harvest. Today, trapping is a highly regulated activity. Wild furbearers in the United States are common and abundant trapping does not cause wildlife to become endangered. Modern trapping is managed through scientifically based regulations, strictly enforced by more than 8,000 conservation officers nationwide. In West Virginia, the DNR has over 40 rules and regulations concerning trapping seasons and limits, the size and style of traps, and where traps may be set. For example, traps cannot have teeth on the jaws, those set on land may not have a jaw spread of more than 6 ½ inches, and traps may not be set in human foot trails.

Modern, regulated trapping provides many benefits to society. Wildlife biologists use trapping to manage populations, conduct research, reestablish populations and protect endangered species. River otter, fisher and beaver were trapped in areas where they were abundant and moved to West Virginia to restore populations in the Mountain State. In addition, raccoons are being trapped and examined to evaluate the success of the Appalachian Ridge Oral Rabies Vaccination project. Trapping is often the solution to resolving many wildlife damage and nuisance conflicts with humans. The DNR has established a Wildlife Damage Control Agent program to help the public with problem wildlife. In addition, trapping is a beneficial outdoor activity, providing food, fur for garments, cosmetic items, art supplies and other products.

The first BMP published was for trapping coyotes in the eastern United States. Copies are available at DNR offices. Development of additional BMPs will provide trappers with the best available information to continue improving trapping for the future. For more information about BMPs and trapping, visit, and

The International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies was founded in 1902. It is an organization of public agencies charged with the protection and management of North America's fish and wildlife resources. The 50 state fish and wildlife agencies as well as provincial and territorial governments in Canada are members. The Association has been a key organization in promoting sound resource management and strengthening state, provincial, federal and private cooperation in protecting and managing fish and wildlife and their habitats in the public interest.

Clifford Brown is a wildlife manager at French Creek, and currently serves as a regional representative to the IAFWA Furbearer Resources Technical Work Group.