Illinois Department of Natural Resources

CONTACT: Bob Bluett, 217-782-6384

A Look at Trapping During the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial

SPRINGFIELD, ILL. -- The days of trappers using foothold traps with teeth ended more than a quarter century ago in Illinois, and trap sizes were restricted almost 75 years ago. But negative images about trapping persist in many people's minds.

Trappers have had a hard time shaking stereotypes from an earlier era. This is despite improvements in technology that allow animals to be trapped as humanely as possible, laws that promote animal welfare, and evolving standards among trappers and agencies about how trapping is conducted.

"What most folks don't realize is that trappers care about wildlife and work hand-in-hand with state and federal agencies to conserve them," says Bob Bluett, wildlife diversity biologist at Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Compensating for history
The activities of today's trappers are controlled through strict, scientifically based regulations in Illinois. These regulations are enforced by Illinois conservation police officers who specialize in uncovering violations of state and federal wildlife laws.

Compare this to the United State's formative years: Wildlife resources seemed limitless, and the nation's people and government sought fortunes through wildlife exports. No regulatory agencies existed, and unrestricted harvests led to severe declines in wildlife valued for pelts and feathers. This led to beavers being over-harvested - and in the case of passenger pigeons, their extinction.

"Trapping and fur were an essential economic building block for a young United States," Bluett notes. "In this bicentennial year of Lewis and Clark's expedition, it's important to remember that Thomas Jefferson as U.S. president commissioned the journey to locate a Northwest Passage for trade. That trade was largely focused on supplying as many beaver pelts to Europe as possible. Since wildlife harvests weren't regulated, animals were hunted and trapped beyond their ability to replenish themselves."

Modern improvements in trapping
Those early days of trapping have plagued trappers ever since, despite improvements in modern wildlife management to ensure such things never happen again.

Modern wildlife management and trapping improvements ensure that:

· Hunting and trapping are allowed only for abundant wildlife
Regulated hunting and trapping do not cause wildlife to become endangered. Of Illinois' 14 furbearer species (animals that traditionally have been harvested for fur), 12 are trapped and hunted according to strict regulations. The two remaining species, river otter and bobcat, are increasingly common but still protected by state laws from hunting and trapping.

"Since the advent of modern wildlife management in the past century, hunting and trapping never have caused a single animal population to become endangered or extinct," Bluett notes. "In fact, biologists often work with trappers to capture wildlife safely and unharmed for research and reintroductions of species such as the river otter."

Hunting and trapping are allowed only during certain times of the year. These times coincide with animal life cycles. For example, trapping animals for their fur is prohibited when they are giving birth to and raising their young.

· Best Management Practices help set trapping standards
Illinois DNR is working with other state and federal fish and wildlife agencies to develop Best Management Practices (BMPs) for trapping in the United States. BMPs identify and promote the best technology to capture wildlife. They address key points regarding the use and performance of traps to focus on animal welfare and the ability of traps to capture animals efficiently.

BMPs describe types of traps, how they work best, how they should be set, what training may be needed for people who trap, as well as other information that help traps and trappers function safely, humanely and efficiently.
"Traps with iron teeth seen in museums have been illegal in Illinois for more than 25 years," Bluett says. "Modern traps have smooth surfaces -- or are even padded. Traps are regulated by size and type to prevent injuries and the capture of unintended wildlife."

· Trappers receive education in responsibility, safety and methods
Illinois DNR provides trapper education courses for the public and encourages all trappers to participate. These courses teach people proper techniques and equipment to use in order to trap safely and humanely. These courses emphasize laws, regulations and responsible behavior.

First-time trappers under the age of 18 are required to pass one of these courses before they can buy a trapping license.

Illinois DNR continually reviews rules, regulations and education programs to make certain that trapping is done as humanely as possible, while helping to maintain a balance between people and wildlife.

Trappers also work within organizations such as the Illinois Trappers Association and local chapters of Furtakers of America to promote responsible behavior and conservation stewardship.

"Modern trapping is vastly improved in regulation, technology and practice compared to America's early days," Bluett says. "Thanks to modern wildlife management, most wildlife species have recovered - some to record or near record levels."

In today's world, regulated hunting and trapping allow citizens to reap benefits without threatening the future of wildlife populations.

Hunting and trapping help maintain a balance between wildlife and people by reducing or preventing damage to agricultural crops, buildings and other property. Regulated harvests also help manage healthy wildlife populations.

Visit the Fur Hunting and Trapping in Illinois website
Learn more by visiting the Illinois DNR's new website, "Fur Hunting and Trapping in Illinois," at, or contact the Illinois DNR at 217-782-6384.