Official Site of the National Trappers Association
Official Site of the National Trappers Association

National
Trappers Association

Protecting Wild Things and Wild Places

Defending Our Heritage

We Are Committed

To defend and promote the safe and ethical harvest of furbearing mammals and to the preservation and enhancement of their habitats.

We Encourage

The development and usage of the most effective and humane trapping techniques available.

Education
Education
Top name trappers provide demonstrations at each convention to help trappers of all ages improve their trapping techniques.
Research
Research
The reintroduction of the otter in the U.S. is an example of the partnership between trappers and wildlife managers.
Legislation
Legislation
The NTA lawyers & lobbyists assist many states with introduced legislative bills which are detrimental to trappers.
View Your State
Your State
Click the map to view what's happening in your state. Most are affiliated with the NTA helping us all work together.
Highlights of the 2019 National Trappers Association Convention

Trappers & Legislative Action

Trapping Facts
Quick Facts About Trapping

There are more wild furbearers in the United States today than there was 100 years ago.
There are no furbearing animals in the United States or Canada which are endangered or threatened by fur harvesting today.
Millions of North Americans depend on fur harvesting for their livelihood. These people have a vested interest in protecting the natural environment.
Nothing is wasted in the production of a wild fur garment. Furbearers provide food, organic fertilizer, medicines, and other biodegradable products.
Conversely, synthetic materials exhaust our limited supply of oil and other non-renewable resources.
Sound wildlife management programs ensure the necessary supply of natural wild fur for today's needs and those of tomorrow
About NTA

The National Trappers Association is committed to defending and promoting the safe and ethical harvest of furbearing mammals and to the preservation and enhancement of their habitats.
Fifty-one state trapping affiliates make up the core of the national organization representing thousands of fur harvesters from every portion of the country. The National Trappers Association and its members continue to research and encourage the development and usage of the most effective and humane trapping techniques available.
Furbearers, like other managed wildlife species, thrive and are far more diverse today then 100 years ago. The reintroduction of the river otter throughout America’s river systems is just one example of the successful partnership between trappers and wildlife managers.
The National Trappers Association continues to defend our American Heritage and the sound management of all wildlife for the future enjoyment and use by all sportsmen of North America.
We thank all members and organizations for their dedicated support.
Destroying the Myth
This NTA produced video explodes the heart of the anti-trapping strategy by exposing it as false. Click video to view.
Membership Specials
The NTA offers special membership campaigns throughout the year. Join with us to help preserve our heritage.

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NTA Director
Mike Murdock
1130 E 1800 N
Terreton, ID 83450
T: 208-716-0377
E: mikemurdock95@gmail.com

HSUS Statement #1

Trapped animals can suffer from thirst and starvation; they may die as a result of exposure to the elements or predation. (Humane Society of the United States)

Factual Rebuttal: DNR regulation stipulates that traps set in uplands and non-tidal wetlands must be checked once per calender day. This frequency prevents or severely limits the probability of these occurrences. Any person that would violate this regulation would also violate trap prohibition regulations.
The fundamental economic realities of commercial trapping also discourages these occurrences. The margin of profit in commercial trapping is relatively small. Every consecutive day that an animal is in a trap, that trap is non-functional and cannot capture additional animals. In effect, if a trapper allowed this to occur they would be jeopardizing potential revenue.

HSUS Statement #2

The steel-jawed foothold trap has been declared "inhumane" by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the World Veterinary Association, and the American Animal Hospital Association. (Humane Society of the United States)

Factual Rebuttal: These organizations characteristically represent domestic small animal health care providers. The very nature of their professions predetermines that they typically examine only worse case scenarios involving trapped animals. It can be logically assumed that few examinations would be requested for un-injured animals captured in foothold traps.
Animal health care professionals that specialize in wildlife health issues clearly support trapping and the use of foothold traps to manage health concerns in free-ranging wildlife populations.

HSUS Statement #3

Animals still alive when the trapper checks the trapline are killed by bludgeoning or stomping or, less often, by strangulation or shooting. (Humane Society of the United States)

Factual Rebuttal: Portions of this statement reinforce the inherent value of foothold traps. foothold traps are live-restraining devices and the animals are "still alive", thus affording the opportunity to release or harvest captured animals. Although not aesthetically pleasing, blunt force trauma (bludgeoning) and shooting are recognized as humane euthanasia techniques by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Trapper education provides information on humane techniques to put an animal down
Raccoon Roundworms

Raccoon Roundworms

Baylisascaris, an intestinal raccoon roundworm, can infect a variety of other animals, including humans. The worms develop to maturity in the raccoon intestine, where they produce millions of eggs that are passed in the feces. Released eggs take 2-4 weeks to become infective to other animals and humans. The eggs are resistant to most environmental conditions and with adequate moisture, can survive for years.

People become infected when they accidentally ingest infective eggs in soil, water, or on objects that have been contaminated with raccoon feces.

When humans ingest these eggs, they hatch into larvae in the person's intestine and travel throughout the body, affecting the organs and muscles.

Anyone who is exposed to environments where raccoons live is potentially at risk. Young children or developmentally disabled persons are at highest risk for infection when they spend time outdoors and may put contaminated fingers, soil, or objects into their mouths. Hunters, trappers, taxidermists, and wildlife handlers may also be at increased risk if they have contact with raccoons or raccoon habitats.

Infected raccoons have been found throughout the United States, mainly in the Midwest, Northeast, middle Atlantic, and West coast. Infection rarely causes symptoms in raccoons. Predator animals, including dogs, may also become infected by eating a smaller animal that has been infected with Baylisascaris.

Raccoon Roundworms Signs & Symptoms - Nausea, tiredness, liver enlargement, loss of coordination, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of muscle control, blindness, coma.

HSUS Statement #4

Body-gripping traps (steel-jawed foothold traps, snares, and Conibear traps) cause severe distress, fear, and pain to both wildlife and pets. Body-gripping traps slam closed on and grip tightly an animal's leg or other body part. As a result, animals can suffer lacerations, broken bones, and joint dislocation. As the animal struggles to get free, he/she sometimes chews off a leg to escape or breaks teeth by biting the metal trap. (Humane Society of the United States)

Factual Rebuttal: The correct terminology and classification of trap types includes 3 different categories. The first category is 'live-capture restraining devices' that allow the release or harvest of trapped animals. foothold traps are included in this category. The second category is 'killing' devices that result in a near instantaneous death for trapped animals. This category includes Conibears and other brands of body-gripping traps. The third category includes traps that can function either as 'live-capture restraining devices' or 'killing' devices dependent on how and where they are set. Snares are included in this category.
Since Conibears and other body gripping "killer' traps are designed to provide a near instantaneous death via force applied directly below the base of the skull, the likelihood of extraneous injury, and/or self mutilation is extremely low. When snares are used as a 'live- capture restraining device they function in a similar manner to a dog collar and leash. Therefore, the likelihood of extraneous damage and/or self mutilation is also extremely low. Highly structured and replicated studies have repeatedly shown that foothold traps are the only efficient, practical, selective, humane, and environmentally benign 'live-capture restraining device' currently available for many furbearer species.
By design, capture devices used to reintroduce extirpated species or augment Threatened and Endangered populations have to ensure minimal damage probabilities to target animals. foothold traps have been used almost exclusively to capture and re-establish red wolves, gray wolves, mexican wolves, lynx, and river otter.

HSUS Statement #5

Body-gripping traps are indiscriminate. They victimize any animal unfortunate enough to trigger them. Animals caught include protected species such as eagles, kit foxes, fishers, and wolverines, as well as family pets. The majority of smaller animals (birds, rabbits, squirrels, etc.) unintentionally caught in traps die or must be destroyed because of serious, disabling injuries. (Humane Society of the United States)

Factual Rebuttal: The selectivity of foothold traps has been documented in studies conducted by the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in 21 states. The capture of thousands of furbearers resulted in non- target capture rates as small as 3% of total captures, and included no threatened and endangered species. foothold traps are live-capture restraining devices that experience minimal injury rates, and allow release of captured animals. Over 4,000 river otter captured predominately in foothold traps have been released in reintroduction projects in 18 states.
Traps pose no realistic threat to human safety. An exhaustive investigation of trapping incidents in the U.S. during the last twenty years could only document 3 cases of injury to the public that resulted from regulated trapping. All of these injuries were considered minor.

HSUS Statement #6

Commercial trapping is not a "wildlife management tool". There are no bag limits and no limits on the number of traps that can be set. Trapping activity is driven by the price of pelts, not by the need to manage wildlife populations. Some fur-bearers (coyotes for instance) have natural fertility and breeding controls when not disturbed by humans, while others (such as muskrats) experience natural boom-and-bust cycles. (Humane Society of the United States)

Factual Rebuttal: The professional wildlife conservation community universally endorses traps and trapping as critical and essential wildlife management tools. The Wildlife Society and the International Association Of Fish and Wildlife Agencies are the largest international organizations representing professional wildlife conservation employees and governmental wildlife agencies. Both organizations have issued policy statements that strongly support the role commercial trapping plays in achieving wildlife management objectives.
Harvest season length, bag limits, permissible size and types of traps, and total number of traps permissible per trapper, are all considered during the development of management strategies for individual species. Population growth characteristics of some species require strict harvest regulations that include bag limits and limiting the number of traps per individual. Conversely, harvest and population characteristics of other species require liberal regulations to meet prescribed furbearer management objectives.
All wildlife populations possess inherent bio-feedback mechanisms that eventually limit population densities. Most species can exhibit classic 'boom and bust cycles'. The reproductive capabilities of coyotes, muskrats and many other furbearers allow non-regulated populations to increase at exponential rates until they approach and/or surpass the carrying capacity of their respective ecosystems (boom). When this occurs, competition for limited resources compromises the health of the entire population. At that time, the weakened condition of these animals allow density-dependent mortality factors such as starvation, disease, and social strife, to decimate entire populations (bust). Oftentimes, the health of the entire ecosystem including all aligned wildlife species and the public are also negatively impacted by these inflated furbearer populations.
Regulated commercial trapping manages populations by moderating the extremes of 'boom and bust' cycles. This results in stable populations of healthy animals that are in balance with the biological carrying capacity of their ecosystems and the cultural carrying capacity accepted by the general public.
Learn more about some of the most commonly trapped furbearers in the United States by clicking on the photos below.

Beaver Fever (Giardiasis)

Giardiasis (GEE-are-DYE-uh-sis) is a diarrheal illness caused by a one-celled, microscopic parasite, Giardia intestinalis (also known as Giardia lamblia). Once an animal or person has been infected with Giardia intestinalis, the parasite lives in the intestine and is passed in the stool. Because the parasite is protected by an outer shell, it can survive outside the body and in the environment for long periods of time.

During the past 2 decades, Giardiainfection has become recognized as one of the most common causes of waterborne disease (found in both drinking and recreational water) in humans in the United States . Giardia are found worldwide and within every region of the United States.

The Giardia parasite lives in the intestine of infected humans or animals. Millions of germs can be released in a bowel movement from an infected human or animal. Giardia is found in soil, food, water, or surfaces that have been contaminated with the feces from infected humans or animals. You can become infected after accidentally swallowing the parasite.

Beaver Fever Signs & Symptoms - Diarrhea, gas, greasy stools, stomach or abdominal cramps, upset stomach or nausea/vomiting, dehydration.
Beaver Fever
Furbearer

What is a Furbearer?

Technically, the term furbearer includes all mammals, all of which, by definition possess some form of hair. Typically, however, wildlife managers use the term to identify mammal species that have traditionally been trapped or hunted for their fur. Furbearers are a diverse group, including both carnivores (meat eating predators) and rodents (gnawing mammals). Most are adaptable species ranging over large geographic areas. A few animals that are normally hunted or trapped primarily for their meat or to reduce agricultural or property damage may also be considered furbearers if their skins are marketed.
Fur

Fur Facts

Most furbearers possess two layers of fur: a dense, soft underfur that provides insulation and water-repellent qualities; and an outer layer of longer, glossy guardhairs that grow through the underfur, protecting it from matting and abrasion. A fur is said to be prime when the guardhairs are at their maximum length and the underfur is at its maximum thickness. Fur generally becomes prime in midwinter when the coat is fresh and fully grown; the timing for primeness may vary somewhat depending on species, location (latitude) and elevation.
Fur Industry

Fur Industry

Furs are generally tanned, trimmed, and sewn into garments, rugs, blankets and ornaments, and sometimes dyed in a variety of colors and patterns. Furs are also used in fishing lures, fine brushes and other products. Some furs are shaved, and the hair processed into felt for hats and other garments.
The fur trade is tightly regulated by state, national and international governing bodies. These regulations cover everything from animal welfare to environmental impact.
Renewable Fur

Renewable Resource

Fur is a renewable resource (naturally replenished), a product of long traditional use, valued by many for its beauty, durability, insulative and natural qualities. Fur is only one of many values that people ascribe to furbearers. People have continuously used furbearers in North America for clothing, food and religious ceremonies for the past 11,000 years.
The sustainable use of renewable natural resources is based on the fact that most species of plants and animals produce more young than their habitat can support to maturity.

Furbearers

Technically, the term furbearer includes all mammals, all of which, by definition possess some form of hair. Typically, however, wildlife managers use the term to identify mammal species that have traditionally been trapped or hunted for their fur. Furbearers are a diverse group, including both carnivores (meat eating predators) and rodents (gnawing mammals.

Fur Facts

Most furbearers possess two layers of fur: a dense, soft underfur that provides insulation and water-repellent qualities; and an outer layer of longer, glossy guardhairs that grow through the underfur, protecting it from matting and abrasion. A fur is said to be prime when the guardhairs are at their maximum length and the underfur is at its maximum thickness. Fur generally becomes prime in midwinter when the coat is fresh and fully grown; the timing for primeness may vary somewhat depending on species, location (latitude) and elevation.

Fur Industry

Furs are generally tanned, trimmed, and sewn into garments, rugs, blankets and ornaments, and sometimes dyed in a variety of colors and patterns. Furs are also used in fishing lures, fine brushes and other products. Some furs are shaved, and the hair processed into felt for hats and other garments.
The fur trade is tightly regulated by state, national and international governing bodies. These regulations cover everything from animal welfare to environmental impact.

Resources

Fur is a renewable resource (naturally replenished), a product of long traditional use, valued by many for its beauty, durability, insulative and natural qualities. Fur is only one of many values that people ascribe to furbearers. People have continuously used furbearers in North America for clothing, food and religious ceremonies for the past 11,000 years.
Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects humans and animals. It is caused by bacteria of the genus Leptospira. In humans it causes a wide range of symptoms, and some infected persons may have no symptoms at all. Symptoms of leptospirosis include high fever, severe headache, chills, muscle aches, and vomiting, and may include jaundice (yellow skin and eyes), red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or a rash. If the disease is not treated, the patient could develop kidney damage, meningitis (inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord), liver failure, and respiratory distress. In rare cases death occurs.

Many of these symptoms can be mistaken for other diseases. Leptospirosis is confirmed by laboratory testing of a blood or urine sample. Outbreaks of leptospirosis are usually caused by exposure to water contaminated with the urine of infected animals. Many different kinds of animals carry the bacterium; they may become sick but sometimes have no symptoms. Leptospira organisms have been found in cattle, pigs, horses, dogs, rodents, and wild animals. Humans become infected through contact with water, food, or soil containing urine from these infected animals. This may happen by swallowing contaminated food or water or through skin contact, especially with mucosal surfaces, such as the eyes or nose, or with broken skin. The disease is not known to be spread from person to person.

Leptospirosis Signs & Symptoms - High fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, jaundice, red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhea, rash.

Rabies

Rabies is a disease caused by the rabies virus. It may take several weeks or even a few years for people to show symptoms after getting infected with rabies, but usually people start to show signs of the disease 1 to 3 months after the virus infects them. The early signs of rabies can be fever or headache, but this changes quickly to nervous system signs, such as confusion, sleepiness, or agitation. Once someone with rabies infection starts having these symptoms, that person usually does not survive. This is why it is very important to talk to your doctor or health care provider right away if any animal bites you, especially a wild animal.

Many kinds of animal can pass rabies to people. Wild animals are much more likely to carry rabies, especially raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes, and coyotes. However, dogs, cats, cattle (cows), or any warm-blooded animal can pass rabies to people. People usually get rabies from the bite of an infected animal. Many animals, such as dogs, cats, and horses are vaccinated against rabies, but you should always wash any bite thoroughly and check with your health care provider about what to do if any animal bites you.

Early Rabies Signs & Symptoms - Similar to flu, discomfort, fever, headache. Don't delay calling the doctor!
Rabies
River Otter Restoration
Successful in AK, MO, TN, KY, IL, IN, NC, IA, WV, NE, NY, OH, PA, CO, MD, AZ, MN, OK & KS
Modern foothold traps (these are the same traps used by public trappers) have been used to successfully capture river otter and release them unharmed into other areas of the United States to restore otter populations.

Capture and Relocate
Lynx reintroduced to some western states were captured by foothold traps in the Yukon, Canada.
Red wolves, Mexican wolves and Grey wolves were captured by foothold traps, examined and relocated to establish new populations. Some are used for captive breeding programs by wildlife officials.
Tick Borne Illness

Tick Borne Illness

Ticks may transmit several different diseases to humans, including Lyme Disease, Southern Tick-Associated Rash, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and more.

Lyme disease is spread by the tiny deer tick. Ticks feed on blood, and infected ticks transmit the disease as they feed. Although the deer tick prefers to feed on wild animals, especially mice, birds, opossum, raccoon, and deer, they will also feed on dogs, cats, livestock, and humans. When people visit or live near deer tick habitats, they run a high risk of contracting Lyme disease. For your own safety, you should become familiar with tick habits and habitats, and you should learn how to prevent tick bites.

Tick Borne Illness Signs & Symptoms - Fever, chills, aches and pains, rash.
Skunk
Skunk Range
Skunk Tracks

About the Skunk

Mephitis Mephitis
Order - Carnivora
Family - Mustelidae
The Latin word "mephitis" translates to "bad odor", and many people would agree that the name "bad odor - bad odor" aptly fits the common and abundant striped skunk.
Smaller spotted skinks are also distributed widely, and two species are recognized. Known as "civets" to the fur trade, the western spotted skinks experience a delayed implantation reproduction, while the eastern skunks do not.

Skunk Fast Facts

• Striped skunks can weigh up to 8 pounds, with spotted skunks weighing only 3 pounds.

• Skunk 'spray' contains sulfuric acid, which can cause temporary blindness.

• Both striped and spotted skunk have 34 teeth.

• Striped skunks suffer poor vision of more than 2 to 3 feet.

• Spotted skunks can do 'handstands' and even spray from that position.

Description

Average adult striped skinks weigh 6 to 8 pounds, although body weight might be significantly heavier in late fall as the skunks attain layers of fat to sustain themselves through winter. Spotted skunks are much smaller, usually weighing 2 or 3 pounds. Males of both types are slightly heavier than females.
All striped skunks have a white stripe on the head between the nose and the forehead. A white crest, or cap, is typical on the top of the head, and a continuing white stripe usually divides over the shoulder area into two stripes that continue along the sides of the animal into the tail. The amount of white coloration varies with the individual skunk, with some having broad stripes, narrow stripes, short stripes or even none at all.
Spotted skunks have a white patch on the forehead area, and a broken pattern of white striping that appears as blotches or spots of white in the otherwise black fur. The amount of white also varies with individuals. Some spotted skunks have mostly black tails while other can be mostly white.
The scent glands in skunks are well developed. Musk, or essence, can be sprayed repeatedly as a defense. The yellowish compound is powerful in all skunks, and contains sulfuric acid which can cause temporary blindness in both other animals and man.
Striped and spotted skunks have 5 toes on each foot. The front feet have relatively long claws to assist them in digging for grubs and other foods. Both skunks have 34 teeth, including 4 pointed and sharp canines teeth.
Skunk fur is rather long, and longer on tails than on bodies. Underfur is white under the white guard hairs, and grayish under the black colored guard hairs.

Skunk Habits

Striped skunks are mostly nocturnal, doing most of their hunting and traveling during the night. Territory sizes are somewhat small, and overlapping or sharing of territories is normal as the species does not defend it's territory against others of the same species as do some other species. Home ranges are considered to be about 4 square miles, but most skunks do not travel more than a mile or so in one night's activity.
Communal dens are common during the time of year that young are not being raised, and 6 to 20 skunks might share a den with one male at a time.
Striped skunks suffer from poor vision at a distance of more than 2 or 3 feet. A keen sense of smell enables then to easily locate foods, which vary with the season. Not a particularly swift animal, skunks don't need good distance vision to locate prey species which have little or no mobility. The ability to see a predator at a distance is not necessary either, as the threat of spraying its musk will usually deter all but ignorant predators, who soon receive a lesson.
Skunks usually give ample warning before they spray their musk. Spraying is a defense mechanism and used only when the animal feels that it is necessary to protect its own life. Warnings usually include a lifting of the tail, a turning of the back towards the danger, and sometimes, a pounding of the front feet in a drummer-like fashion.
Spotted skunks are more agile than striped skunks. Their territory sizes are similar to striped skunks. This species can climb very well, and they descend trees head first.
When threatened, spotted skunks commonly do handstands, balancing on their front feet while they lift their bodies into the air. This balancing act usually lasts for about 5 seconds at a time. The species can spray an offender from this position.
Spotted skunks are almost strictly nocturnal, usually retiring to a den before daylight, and coming out only after dark in the evening.
Skunks are not true hibernators, but both species may spend weeks at a time in dens during cold temperatures and deep snow conditions. Striped skunks usually utilize underground dens that have been made by badgers, groundhogs or foxes. At times, they will tolerate other species in its den, even curling up and sleeping with a raccoon, opposum.
Spotted skunks prefer dens under or in old buildings. Oftentimes, a den will on the second floor of an old barn. Dens in haylofts are common, and the spotted skunks easily climb to the elevated areas.
Slow and poorly sighted furbearers, striped skunks are opportunistic feeders. Grubs and insects are commonly located and dug out of the ground, along with juvenile mice, rabbits, and ground nesting birds or eggs found. Fruits and grains are eaten when available, and carrion is commonly eaten during the winter months when many foods are not available.
Spotted skunks are more efficient than striped skunks as predators. These smaller skunks kill and eat significantly more mice and rats. Spotted skunks also frequent the edges of streams and ponds, and they do wade shallow water in pursuit of crayfish, a preferred food.

General

Although skunks are not well liked by people, they do provide valuable services by controlling significant numbers of injurious insects in the larval stages. The diet of spotted skunks is almost entirely beneficial to man. Both striped and spotted skunks can raid chicken houses. The worst offender is usually the spotted skunk because it can climb easily to gain access.
Spotted skunks do dig up lawns in pursuit of grubs, and this is an annoyance to those who spend time and money to groom lawns.
The concern of Rabies in striped skunks is very real. More striped skunks than all other species combined are tested positive for rabies every year, and this disease is always a threat to livestock, pets and man.
Striped skunks can destroy a significant number of waterfowl nests. However, recent studies indicate that they may be beneficial to waterfowl populations because skunks are the only significant predator of a far more serious waterfowl, the snapping turtle. Striped skunks relish snapping turtle eggs, which are commonly found, unearthed and eaten.
Six years of age is considered old for either a striped or spotted skunk.
Young Skunk

Skunk Reproduction

Striped skunks often breed during February, and the males do a great deal of traveling at this time to locate females. Many times, females will live in an underground den through the winter with only one male, who will protect the communal den from invasion by another male.
Gestation periods are usually 63 days, and all bred females seek solitary dens to raise their young by themselves.
Litter sizes of striped skunks are usually 6 to 8, except for the first litter, which usually numbers 4.
The eastern species of spotted skunk, Spilogale Putorius, usually breed in April. Gestation is about 60 days before 3 to 5 young are born.
The western species, Spillage Cracilus, breeds in September or October and gestation is about 140 days due to a delayed implantation process.
The new litter of striped and spotted skunks begin following their mothers at 6 weeks of age. Travel is often single file, and the young are quick to learn to find grubs and insects.
The family unit breaks up as the young reach 3 months of age. Dispersal is not significant, and the juvenile females may continue to share their mother's den. Males are evicted, however, by the dominant male, and the juvenile male skunks are forced to find other suitable den locations.

National
Trappers
Association

Protecting Wild Things
and Wild Places

We Are
Committed

To defend and promote the safe, ethical harvest of furbearing mammals and to the preservation and enhancement of their habitats.

We
Encourage

The development and usage of the most effective and humane trapping techniques available.

Trappers and Legislative Action
By Kent Weil

Want to strike fear in the heart of a trapper? I know trappers that would rather stick their arm in a 330 Belisle than be involved with anything that strikes of political action. And yet, by not getting politically involved we are forfeiting one of our best and least expensive tools to promote our sport.

The results can be very productive and gratifying. All it takes is some direction and organization.

Let’s stick with political action in your state. Things at the national level are on a whole different scale entirely. To narrow it even more, let’s consider only political action as it affects the legislative process. Let’s define “legislative action”, for the purpose of promoting our interests in your state legislature or assembly, as any organized political action that favorable impacts legislation of interest to trappers. That means passing bills that positively affect trapping and defeating bills that have an adverse affect on trapping.

Okay, now we know what we want to do but how do we go about achieving results?

This will be a bit tedious, and if you want to you can skip to the next section, but we should first examine the process by which bills become laws. The process will vary some from state to state, but in general the steps will be similar. There are pressure points available at each step that can be used by trappers to achieve the results we desire. You can break the process into five steps:

1. Formulate a bill to be introduced: Starting with a broad conceptual idea of what the bill should accomplish, work with your state game agency, national trapper organizations, your state trapper association, the National Assembly of Sportsmen Caucus or other sportsmen’s group to fine tune the details. This is the time to start developing a coalition that will support you later in the legislative process. Things to consider:

A. What interests groups will be favorable? There’s no use introducing legislation unless there is support. Talk to potentially supportive groups before introducing the bill. They may have some great ideas. They may also wish to change the bill so that they can support it. Remember, ALL politics is about compromise. As a friend of mine says, “sometimes you have to go along to get along”.

B. What groups will oppose you? Some are obvious (HSUS comes to mind), but you will be surprised sometimes at who will oppose you. It doesn’t hurt to feel out those groups you think will be supportive to make sure that is the case. Just because they supported you in a previous action doesn’t mean they will support this one. Be aware that every group has its own agenda. You don’t want to be blindsided later in the process.

C. Is your state game agency on board with the bill? Having the state game agency on your side makes a powerful argument. The importance of having a close working relationship with your state game agency cannot be stressed enough. One of the great plusses trappers have going for us is that wildlife science is usually on our side. The state game agency will testify on the merits of the bill in question. You need to know in advance where they stand. They will often have suggestions for improvement that might let them support a bill they might otherwise oppose.

D. Is there a fiscal impact? It is difficult to find support for passing legislation that costs the state lots of money. If the bill is going to cost a lot of money, how is the state going to fund it? Legislators will surely ask this question so you will need an accurate answer.

2. Bill is introduced into the legislative body: Now we have to introduce our bill. You will need to decide which legislative body is the best place for introduction (in Illinois we have good sponsors in both our House and Senate so we often introduce the bill in both chambers simultaneously). The choice of which politician to be offered sponsorship can be critical. Often, each body has a member who is known for sponsoring pro-sportsman legislation. This person already has developed credibility in this area and may be offended if you go to someone else. If possible, use them (if you need help in identifying this person, ask your state game agency or look up the chief sponsor of previously favorable bills). Your sponsor will be the one that sees to it that the bill in written up with the correct language. After being introduced, the bill will be assigned to a committee where the general public will be allowed to comment on the bill.

3. Bill is heard in committee: This is an arena where members can have a substantial impact. The general public is allowed to comment (testify) in the committee hearing. As a witness, you can testify in various ways. You can go to the committee meeting and present your position orally (here is a link that does a good job of explaining how to do this: http://www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/faq/faqtoc.aspx?id=117); you can file written comments; or, in many states, you can file a “Record of Appearance Only”. Often this record of appearance can be filed electronically, allowing you to contact your members and have them to log into the committee site to testify. You can run up some numbers real fast this way, and if you can reach your members via email on short notice the results can be especially significant.

4. Bill is heard on the floor: After passage out of committee, the bill goes to the chamber floor. Amendments may be added to the bill at this time, after which the bill will be heard for final passage. At this point members should contact their elected representative and let them know where they stand on the bill. A phone call is good, an email is okay, but a written letter trumps everything. Get your members to do what they can, but I can tell you from personal experience that on a relatively non-controversial bill (and let’s face it, as much as a trapping bill means to us, it isn’t an abortion bill), a legislator will be lucky to receive a scant handful of letters. There is a tendency in any organization to try to get their members involved by using form letters or pre-printed postcards because it is easier than a more personal contact. Don’t do it. If you are going to send written correspondence, it needs to be personal. Believe me, legislators know when they get the exact wording on each piece of mail and they discount if accordingly. Better a fewer number of pieces of mail that will have more impact. Don’t underestimate your ability to have a real impact here. Most legislators know very little about trapping and will often take their position based on what they hear from their constituents. These legislators want to be re-elected so they tend to be pretty responsive to people from their districts. If you want to be really effective, don’t just tell the legislator your position but explain to him just why you feel the bill is good or bad. Be polite and concise, but use this opportunity to educate them.

4. Repeat. If your state legislative body is bi-cameral (two chambers such as a House and a Senate), the bill will need passage out of this body in order to be sent on to the governor. Basically, you will repeat sections 1-3.

5. Bill goes to the Governor: After a passage by the legislature, the governor typically has a certain amount of time in which to sign the bill. As in the case with legislators, it is useful to let the governor’s office know where you stand on the bill. An individual will not have as much effect here as with their legislative representative, but it certainly cannot hurt and at least you let the executive office know that trappers in your state do have a voice and aren’t afraid to us it.

Okay, now that we know how a bill becomes law and have examined ways we can impact its passage, how can we put it all together in a cohesive package? In other words, how do we organize our efforts?

Responsibilities exist on two levels:

1. Individual Responsibility: Individual trappers have to take some ownership of this process. You state organization can only be effective if you do your part.

A. Each trapper needs to become more politically aware. You should know who represents your district in the state legislature and how to contact them. This is easy to do over the internet these days. Most states have a site where you can type in your address and have the site tell you which legislators represent you and how to contact them.

B. Trappers need to, at the very least, join a state association. With your help, the association can do a much better job of tracking and organizing legislative action than you can on your own. One of your best tools is to provide the organization with your email address. Whether you like it or not, electronic correspondence is a necessity in political action today. The association needs to be able to contact you on short notice and as inexpensively as possible.

C. Members should answer the call from the state organization when asked for assistance. Call your state senator, write a letter to your governor, and fill out an electronic witness slip – whatever the association needs. It isn’t that tough. Even writing a short note to a legislator stating your position shouldn’t take you more than 5 minutes or so.

2. Association Responsibility: It is the responsibility of the state trapper’s organizations to develop a means by which they can efficiently introduce and track legislation, as well as notify members and provide them with the information needed to take legislative action. In order to develop an effective organized legislative action, at the very least the association must have the following components:

A. The association must maintain an accurate list of contact information for members – especially email addresses. It is difficult to stress how import electronic contact is to expedite legislative alerts. Often, information received by the association regarding a bill has a very limited window of response time. Regular mail takes too long and is too expensive, yet the association can contact its members via email in a matter of minutes allowing ample time for the member to take appropriate action.

B. The association must devise a method by which they can track legislation. The association needs to know, daily, of the status of legislation they are tracking as well as the general level of opposition. This can be done in a variety of ways that can be tailored to the association’s resources and abilities. Your state game agency will usually already be tracking this legislation, and a member or officer can be designated as a liaison to the state game agency to receive information updates on the status of the bill. Members designated by the association can do daily checks on legislation. This information is typically available online. Some states will have a system by which you can register and receive email alerts as the status changes on a bill. Other allied organizations may also already have a system of tracking bills that the association can tap into. Just remember that what is important to you as a trapper may not be as important to another sportsman’s organization with a different agenda.

C. The association must educate their membership and provide direction on issues affecting trappers. You can have the most accurate and complete list of members and the best trapping bill ever, but if you cannot connect the two you haven’t accomplished much. Most members will know little about the legislative process and will, in all reality, care even less. Your job is to change their viewpoint. It starts by getting the members to understand that, with a little effort, they can actually make a difference. Along with a request for action, you must provide the members with detailed information on how they can be effective. For example: Say a committee is hearing a trapping bill and the association wants it’s members to testify by utilizing electronic witness slips. Sending an email simply asking members to go a website and testify in favor of the bill is not properly utilizing your membership. While it may be easy for you, for someone who has never testified on a bill it might be a bit daunting. You can make it much easier by sending detailed instructions on completing the witness slip (complete with a web link to the site) along with your request for legislative action. Requests for emails, phone calls, or letters can be handled much the same. Provide the member with a sample script (making sure the member understands that they are to use their own wording) along with a request for action. The easier you make it to understand the action the more successful your action will be.

D. The association must publicize their successes. Let your members know that their efforts were successful. Give them detailed information showing just how their action helped. And don’t stop here! Make sure that other sportsmen’s groups know just how important the trappers were in passing a bill. The days when trappers could get away with being shy and secretive are over. Make sure every player in the legislature knows what you did. Make sure that the national trapper’s organizations know too – that’s why you have NTA and FTA representatives on your board.

In the 45 years or so I have been reading trapping magazines this is a subject rarely touched on and never satisfactorily explained, yet utilizing the legislative process is vital to the continuation of our sport. Believe me, the anti’s have a thorough understanding of this and use it against us all over the country.

This is my attempt to distill a very complicated process down to essential component parts. Like any complicated process, there is usually more than one path to a successful conclusion so you may disagree with the path I outlined. Not a problem. Get involved and show me there is a better way.

If you are an officer or director of a state association that has no plan of action to support pro-trapper legislation you are doing your members a disservice. Start one – you owe it to your membership.

If you are a trapper who does not belong to a state association – shame on you. How can the association provide effective support for our sport if you refuse to give them the tools to help?

Please, get involved. One of the thing I love about trappers is that they are independent and innovative as all get out (did I mention, uhhh, frugal?). These are strengths we can use. We will never beat HSUS with money. We can beat them by educating our state legislators on the merits of trapping and showing them that trappers can speak with one very loud voice when necessary.

After all, we’re right and they’re wrong!
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