Animal trapping is an ancient human endeavour. Laws have regulated trapping as well as other hunting methods for at least several hundred years. Early trapping laws focused on encouraging trapping wild animals for economic benefit or livestock protection, while more recent trapping laws endeavour to advance wildlife conservation. Trappers in every state will encounter a variety of laws pertaining to their activities.
Humans have likely trapped animals for food and fur since before they were considered anthropologically human, since trapping-related behaviour, such as running a prey animal into a corner or off a cliff, is seen in many predator species. The earliest trapping laws in North American encouraged trapping through government support of beaver-pelt purchasing outposts and bounties offered on trapping predators who threatened settlers' livestock. Hunting, fishing and trapping laws in North America grew from the mid-eighteenth century through the nineteenth century as many species were wiped out (passenger pigeons) or nearly so (beaver) through over-harvesting.
Animal bounties are payments made to people who come to a state game office with proof that they have killed, by hunting or trapping, an animal of the type for which a bounty law program is presently in effect. Fish and Game regulations are state laws that dictate the species and any gender or age variations, season dates and methods by which any animal may be hunted, fished or trapped within that state. Furbearers licensing laws specifically permit an individual to trap animals in compliance with state Fish and Game regulations. Fur dealer's licensing laws authorise individuals to sell animal pelts commercially, and federal fur labelling laws may also apply to those sales.
Animal trapping laws enhance wildlife conservation and fulfil wildlife management plans by controlling the timing and scale of furbearing animal harvest. Trapping furbearing animals continues to provide all or a portion of the annual income of many thousands of people in the United States, and these trappers in turn are a vested constituency for ensuring that furbearing animal populations continue on into the future. Animal trapping laws permit trappers to ply their trade and sell their wares while safeguarding future animal populations.
Congress and several states are considering laws banning certain types of traps, such as the leg hold trap, out of concern regarding animal cruelty, since the animals caught in these traps are left alive but injured, often in pain, until the trapper comes to kill them. Traps can ensnare domestic cats and dogs, as well as unknowing hikers who stumble over a trap line. Laws regarding marking traps, or using certain types of traps that can be easily sprang by a person caught in them, help safeguard against these problems. Most states' laws make it illegal for anyone other than the licensed trapper to remove animals caught in a trap.
Licensed trappers have the skills and experience to remove nuisance wildlife, from red squirrels or porcupines doing damage to a house, to bears invading birdfeeders and coyotes worrying livestock. As beavers return throughout their original habitat, they run into conflict with humans by building dams that flood roads and homes. Trappers remove these animals, either for extermination or through humane live-trapping for transportation to another area farther from human habitation.
Not all animal trapping requires a license or compliance with Fish and Game regulations. Anyone may trap mice and rats in their residence or workplace, for example, and no license is required to trap feral domesticated animals such as cats for termination or removal. Many states do not require a hunting or trapping license for landowners to take game or furbearing animals from their own lands. In most states, however, road kill is not fair game---a furbearer's license is required to lawfully remove the pelt from a squashed fox, raccoon or skunk on the shoulder of the road.
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