Now that most of the work is done to build Underhill House, I am starting to get back to my writing career.  I contacted my editor at Isthmus to tell her I was ready to take an assignment.  She asked me to write an article about trapping in Wisconsin because the state has just decided to open areas of the state parks to trapping.

I knew nothing about trapping and decided it was a topic I would like to learn more about, so I accepted the assignment.

I’m a vegetarian – partly because of the environmental impact of the factory farms.  If you want to know more about this connection check out Mark Bittmann’s latest column on the UN’s report “Livestock’s Long Shadow.”

But I also feel that because I have options, there is no reason I care to kill animals to eat them.  I also  accept that there may be some  environmentally friendly ways to eat meat, such as eating deer or other wildlife in places where they are overcrowded.

I spoke with a number of people who trap, and state Department of Natural Resource staff who regulate trapping  as a way of managing wildlife resources and I also spoke with people who are vehemently opposed to trapping on the grounds that it is cruel and inhumane.

I’m sure there are some irresponsible trappers out there, just like there are bad apples in everyoher barrel, but the trappers I met seemed like reasonable, responsible people.  The DNR staff were competent and thoughtful people who care about conservation.  Much of what the anti-trapping people said seemed to be uninformed and even clearly untrue.

Yes, animals can be hurt in traps, and when the trappers return, they are killed, more often for their fur than their meat.  Fur is a dirty word in this country, and I am certainly not going to wear any, but in many parts of the world, it is considered a way to keep warm with a renewable resource instead of using synthetic materials.  And the same people who won’t wear fur, often wear down jackets.

We live in a world of contradictions.  I would personally like to see some of that energy being used to protest trapping be directed instead at factory farming where the amount of misery caused for human convenience is incalculable.  I’m not personally convinced by cries of cruelty from anyone who eats meat or wears leather shoes.

If you want to read what I learned when I started researching trapping, here is the article.


Carolyn Schueppel was walking her dog in a privately owned conservation area near Lake Waubesa where dogs were commonly, but illegally, let off the leash. She let Handsome, her three-year-old Border collie mix, stretch his legs, and he raced out of sight. She found him just beyond the conservancy border in a Conibear trap that had been set to catch and kill raccoons. Terrified, Schueppel struggled with the trap but was unable to open it, and was forced to watch Handsome die.

“It was horrible,” Schueppel says. “It’s still horrible. I’m struggling. The trapper set his trap on private land about 100 yards from where he was supposed to be. I don’t want to walk in the woods by myself anymore.”

A year later Fred Strand and his golden retriever, Hank, were hunting for grouse and woodcock in northern Wisconsin when Hank stepped on a foothold trap intended to catch wolves. This time, the dog’s story ended happily. Strand is a wildlife biologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and knew how to pry open the jaws of the trap. The foothold trap is the same design used by biologists who capture large predators to attach radio collars for studying their habits. Hank ran on without injury.

New legislation will open most state parks to trapping for the first time this April. These parks will also be open for trapping from Nov. 15 to Dec. 15. Under the law traps need to be set more than 100 yards from trails, park shelters and other high-traffic areas.

Conservationists say trapping is a useful tool for maintaining healthy wild animal populations. Trappers say they are harvesting a renewable resource to supply a global market for fur clothing. Opponents say trapping is unnecessary and inhumane.

Beyond the philosophical differences, are we going to see an increase in the number of pet injuries or deaths in the state parks that now allow trapping? And how safe are hikers who step off the trails?   READ MORE


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7 replies

  1. There is not much trapping done here in Latvia, but I did spend a year examining the conflict between hunters and farmers over hunting of wild boar. In our area the hunters are blamed for the increase in numbers of animals as they feed the wildlife through the long hard winters, with wild boar (wild hogs) seeing some of the biggest increases. Having said that, in my studies I met with those who were endeavouring to be responsible hunters and those who didn’t care and thought farmers were lazy and should take care of their land more. I did gain more respect for hunters where they tried to balance their sport with respect for landowners and wildlife, which opened my eyes to another aspect of hunting I hadn’t really thought about before and that is hunting combined with conservation.

    It is interesting to take a good look at these issues in a holistic way.

    • Thanks for your perspective, Joanna.
      There are always rotten apples in any barrel, and I don’t doubt that there are hunters and trappers out there who are inconsiderate to their neighbors and generally unconcerned about their impact on the environment, but most of the hunters and trappers I have met do not fit that nasty mold. My article generated some very strong anti-trapping sentiment.
      I would like to repeat that when I think about my troubles with the overpopulation of deer around here, I just thank my lucky stars that I don’t have your wild boar to deal with.

  2. Please consider doing more research Ms. Thornton. Anti-trapping activists are also the same people who are against factory farming and all animal cruelty and environmental damage. With all due respect, you those who perpetuate animal cruelty have a pattern of lies that is obvious to activists.

    I am glad you admitted to not knowing much about trapping. The DNR appears legitimate and informed only because you didn’t talk to the other side. What is not legitimate about the Alliance for Animals and the National Animal Rights Groups? Why are they not well-informed? They know a great deal about factory farming and it’s effects on global warming.

    This is a lot of studying, but do you realize that your article may be damaging to our environment and our animals? Please, I beg you do further research and go to the sites recommended to you by Ms. Randolph and talk to Rick Bogle and BornFree and HSUS. HSUS has hundreds of thousands of members in our state. How many does Sierra club have? Do you really think the younger generation is joining these organizations and going vegan because they don’t know what’s going on?

    We are all wondering if you are getting paid to uphold big business…in this case Big Fur. I too, at first was skeptical about animal rights activists because of their vehemence, but they do know what they are talking about. You of all people, a vegetarian, would know that.

    • Thanks for your comments, Carolyn.

      I’m afraid I don’t see the link between trapping and factory farming. As a vegetarian who drinks Organic Valley milk, buys my eggs from my neighbor and my cheese from friends, I still feel a twinge about my personal involvement in the ethical and environmental aspects of raising and slaughtering animals.

      None of us in this country have completely clean hands.

      The UN’s 2006 report Livestock’s Long Shadow makes it clear that livestock has a greater carbon footprint than transportation does world wide. And speaking of transportation, According to the nonprofit organization Culture Change, every year 100 million lab animals are killed, hunters kill 200 million “game” animals and motorists kill nearly 400 million animals on the road. Only American’s meat eaters take a larger toll than its motorists. Are you willing to stop driving to protect innocent wildlife? As a child, I watched two family dogs die beneath the wheels of cars. As an adult, I have killed a dog that ran in front of my car on a country road. I try to drive responsibly, but I’m not going to stop driving.

      Back to trapping. When it comes to wildlife – I am passionate about maintaining healthy ecosystems.

      It is naive to think that by just not killing any wildlife that we will be acting to benefit wildlife. Without the hunting and trapping pressure that is currently overseen by state regulations, it seems to me that mass starvation would be the fate of the overpopulation that would result in some of our most common game species that lack natural preditors today.

      Jack Sullivan, the director of integrated science services at the DNR says it’s both important and relatively easy to manage game populations on the high side of their sustainability curves. He is clear to point out that species such as wolves have not reached a sustainable population in the state, and we really are not capable of intelligently managing wolf populations through hunting. In fact, the absence of top predators such as wolves is part of the reason why overpopuation is a serious risk for many game species. I’m sure it was horrible to watch Handsome die in a trap. I know exactly how hard it is to lose a beloved pet. But When it comes to wildlife I don’t think I would care to watch them starve anymore than be killed by trappers.

      These are complex problems, but I do not see trapping and factory farming or even the mayhem on the highways in that same light.

      Your speculation that I am being paid by big business is ludicrous. My sources for this trapping article are people of truly humble means, and I suspect that you and I are better off economically. I assure you that no one offered to bribe me. If they did, I would include it in the article, rather than accept. The Big part of the fur business is factory farming of furbearing animals, and this was an article about trapping of wild furbearing animals. Most trapped fur ends up in clothing designed to keep people in cold climates warm. These are not the furs than end up on fashion runways around the world. That’s factory farms. I don’t wear fur — it would creep me out. But I understand that fur garments for warmth may well have a smaller carbon footprint than the nylon and polar fleece that I wear instead.

      It weakens your argument and the arguments made by you and Ms. Randolph when you make assertions about payments under the table and link trapping to factory farming or try to wrongly connect the very important carbon footprint impact issue.

      By all means make your arguments about animal cruelty, but the case against trapping is an emotional one and my trapping research found absolutely no connection to global warming. I’d be glad to continue this conversation and explore your sentiments further, but I’d like to separate it from what we both agree is the egregious nature of factory farming.

      • I have a lot to say, but it is late. We have an old article indicating that NAFA makes millions of dollars off of wild fur from Wisconsin. One year they collected 120 semi-loads of wild fur at the Stoughton collection point. This to me is Big.

        Again, I am curious why you had not spoken to people outside of DNR? BornFree has an anti-trapping campaign for example. There are organizations all over the world against trapping. Why not talk to them as well as our local Alliance for animals? It seems you think I am all emotional and so are anti-trapping activists. An academic who is world renowned on the canine says that is why we are alive. If a person had no emotion s/he would analyze their budget for redecorating after a fire instead of feel the fear necessary to escape that same fire in their house.

        For those of fortunate enough to have our emotions intact…we can be a voice for animals. They should not be allowed to be in cruel traps for 96 hours. Yes, on Monday, April 8th, the Wisconsin Conservation Congress will vote to extend the trap check time for the weasel to 96 hours. This is just one example of stupidity. If my dog hadn’t died I would still be against trapping and I was, as anyone would be given the facts about it.

        Again, my question…did you interview anyone outside the DNR? Why or why not? I thought journalism was about questioning and probing not accepting the State’s information as truth.

  3. I am not surprised but rather appalled at your lack of journalistic integrity in NOT publishing the extensive rebuttal I made to your pro-trapping article. Perhaps the extent of your oversight embarrassed you and you need to be right. But really we all make mistakes and should be open to debate on issues of this importance where the suffering and death of millions of animals are justified, exposed, and the reasons for them openly debated.

    You said that you cared passionately about intact balanced ecosystems. I gave you ample reasons why that is just not borne out by your defense of archaic indiscriminate trapping – specifically in the case of beavers who create the most valuable habitat in the world, freshwater wetlands.

    I will resubmit my comments in hope that you are up for a healthy debate:

    Ms. Thornton betrays a real sick bias throughout this display of trying to seem so “unbiased”. I ( being “Randolph”, have never made any assertions about payments under the table. Ms Thornton plays a broad brush when she makes statements attributed to me I never made.) But the bias supporting “MAN-agement” by killing is laid out in her very convoluted mindset.

    Nature manages herself quite nicely without over a million wild animals raped out of our public and private lands for personal profit and recreation. A new trapper can pay $4 and mutilate, mangle, and suffocate, bludgeon as many animals as he or she can get in as many traps as they can set -for 6 months right through the birthing month of April. But I cannot pay $4 and save one. Trappers can destroy unlimited wildlife from our commons – our public trust – carte blanche (permanently out to death for private gain) while 99% of us who harm no one have no similar rights to go in and save as many wild animals permanently to enrich our commons. It is undemocratic. It is unscientific. It is “unsustainable”. It is cruel.

    Oh – do tell me how scientific it is to trap wild animals throughout April when babies are being left to die. Even if you trap, one would think the next cash crop would be protected for your fun next year.

    Imagine a patron ( kill some of every creature) going in to pay his or her $165 or so – and finding only saving licenses. How angry would he be? I can tell you how angry – as angry as I going in and finding only killing licenses. Find a fawn orphaned ? Go in and try to buy a deer tag for that fawn to be your fawn ALIVE. Nope. Not even on your own property. But the DNR will come out and kill her for you. So the only ticket out is the death ticket for the favored elite – the killing cartel.

    Set up that way. Corrupt structure.

    I served on the trapping committee of the Killing Congress from 1999-2002. Do tell me how democratic that is. On average, 5,000 lifetime NRA,” I kill every creature I can and teach as many kids as I can to do the same” “representatives” have ruled the SOLE advisory to the legislature, DNR and NRB for a stunning 80 years. And the rest of the people don’t have a clue that the election exists. While people like this writer rationalize bludgeoning to death hundreds of thousands of innocent beings in traps designed in the 1700’s by a 17 year old trapper.

    The reference to “emotions” and “sentiments” is a haughty tired old chauvinistic ploy to denigrate the value of empathy. I have seldom seen people more emotional about wildlife and their “rights” to kill them than hunters and trappers. Whole human beings have emotions to guide them to empathy and compassion – feelings some women lack – but are much more repressed in men. My three years on the Killing Congress were a revelation in how threatening feelings of empathy are to the hard core killing enthusiasts who have controlled that advisory that is supposed to represent all citizens – a stolen election.

    It is particularly ironic that Ms. Thornton thinks that there is an “overpopulation of deer” – another smoke screen by the DNR long exposed as a ruse. I suggest that reading THE DEER HERD AND THE BIG LIE ( Madravenspeak column archived on might be research that Thornton skipped over – and the announcements made each year for the last several, by cheerleader Stepp that the DNR is dutifully “growing the deer herd another 175,000 ( each year) ” saying the department heard loud and clear that their sole clientele – the guts of their murder biz – want to see more deer, and have an easier time in their tree loungers killing more deer.

    Out of one side of the DNR killing plan “Oh – we NEED hunters to keep deer numbers down ” and out of the other side “Oh – they want more deer – so kill more bucks and leave the does to create the next cash crop. ” Just – a farmin’ for more killing fodder.

    Thornton’s “passion about healthy ecosystems” does not extend to freshwater wetlands, the most valuable habitat in the world for HALF of the rare and endangered species on earth. All created for free by the passionate engineer, beaver, who American Indians called ” the sacred center” of life. In 2009, the DNR estimated there were 66,800 beavers in the entire state. Over the next 16 months, trappers destroyed ( at minimum, since that number is what they chose to report ) over 69,000 beavers. Trapped them out mercilessly. It takes about 20-30 minutes of excruciating pain for a beaver to struggle in a conibear trap underwater and drown slowly. The science? Hydrologists ( water is the new oil) say that most of N. America’s water problems are caused by two factors:
    1. The massive destruction of beavers who clean water and filter it in the boggy, peaty magnificent eco-friendly damming they do – efforts that humans pay $10,000 – $100,000/acre to duplicate, and
    2. The abusive practices of massive agricultural drainage. I happened to sit in on a drainage hearing at the natural resources committee. Wisconsin has an appalling 500,000 acres of agricultural drainage. And proud of it.

    Do tell how trapping every beaver found in the state serves Thornton’s “passion for balanced ecosystems.”

    What it serves is Trout Unlimited’s ignorant assumption that beavers warm the water too much for their stocking of catch and release. Since salmon and trout co-evolved with beavers ( along with all those pesky rare and endangered species that are irrelevant in Thornton’s lack of research), a little google easily finds the Beavers, Wildlife and Wetlands web site that explains how necessary beavers are to life. To all of us. But just a $$$ treat as carcasses for a trapper.

    In 2011, trappers paid $98,000 to kill over a half million animals ( plus at least that many “trash animals”) – when I worked it out for a column with the actual statistics, it factored to 19 cents per dead animal.

    I want my citizen rights to pay 19 cents and save as many animals as I can tag…..a first time democracy, anyone?

    Trapping is an obscenity. It has nothing to do with anything healthy – but personal profit, sadism, and indiscriminate destruction not only of our foxes, bobcats, coyotes, muskrats, skunks, possums, raccoons and any unfortunate hawk, owl, eagle, or bird of prey – unwanted small mammals, babies to small to bother with – and the babies left to starve to death in spring. Wisconsin is ideal habitat for a rich variety of life – destroyed for 10,000 trappers to make a little money for their brutality. For China and Russia to have fur trim on their nouveau riche hoodies.

    And then there are the hundreds of horror show fur farms across the state.

    This state is hell for wildlife and for those of us who love their sweet presence in our lives. And hell for those of us who realize that wildlife populations, invertibrate populations, pollinators, ocean sea life, large mammals and natural predators are on the fast track out of existence because of this abuse combined with many others – animal and animal product consumption at the top of the list.

    With human population exponential and greedy and rationalizing even the obscenity of trapping, with all the take and fragmentation and corruption of humans destroying the earth – fracking, pipelines, mountain top removal, poisons, Monsanto – one would think we would turn to saving who we can – honoring and respecting all life – being humbled by the damage and destruction we have wrought with our insane cruelty to non-human animals.

    This article was yet another human rationale for cruelty. Really a sad waste of a great opportunity.

  4. Sorry Patricia,

    I have been ill for over a week and can’t find the earlier rebuttal you refer to.

    I want to begin by saying that personal attacks are not welcome, and you must know that they are never productive.

    We obviously see the trapping situation very differently.

    I accepted an assignment to research and write about the topic of trapping in Wisconsin. As with the many other articles I write every year, I approached this topic with an open mind and learned a lot in the process. I have a masters’ degree in journalism from the UW-Madison with an emphasis in science writing, and I take my training and responsibility seriously.

    For this article, I carefully and extensively interviewed 11 people, including you, and I stand by what I wrote.

    I do agree with you that as a species, we humans are doing terrible damage to the planet and all its life. I remain convinced trappers play a negligible role in this destruction compared to the petrochemical- and agri-businesses.

    In general, I choose to focus on habitat restoration and climate restoration topics that I support with my time and energy and resources.

    I wish you well in your efforts to make the world a better place.

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