Questions continue to surround coyote death in Abbotsford

Community members who set the device, and how to stop it from happening again

An incident of a coyote that chewed into its leg in an attempt escape a leg-hold trap in Abbotsford is being investigated by provincial conservation officers.

Groups have called for better regulation of trapping in B.C., after the animal was left in a trap for days and had to be euthanized due to the severity of the injury and infection. The proper setting, use and monitoring of traps is enforced by conservation officers.

A couple discovered the coyote on March 2 with its leg caught in a padded leg-hold trap, entangled in some branches in a wooded area of Beaton Road near the Fraser River. The animal was brought to Critter Care Wildlife Society of Langley.

Since the incident, the Association for the Protection of Fur-bearing Animals (APFA) has reiterated its call for reform on leg-hold trap laws in B.C. and asked the City of Abbotsford to stop any city-endorsed use of traps.

But Katherine Jeffcoatt, director of communications for the City of Abbotsford, said the city has little control over trapping, and most of the regulations are within provincial jurisdiction.

She explained that the city is only allowed to regulate what occurs on its parkland, and there is an existing parks bylaw that prohibits the injuring, trapping or snaring of any bird or animal in any park.

Council or agents of the city may, with the consent of the minister of the environment, trap and remove animals from its parks.

In the past, Abbotsford has used beaver traps, but Jeffcoatt said the city does its best to prevent the intrusion of beavers and cut down on unnecessary trapping.

Jeffcoatt said the community charter states that city bylaws have no effect if they are inconsistent with provincial regulation, making it difficult to introduce a trapping bylaw within the city.

A spokesperson for the ministry of forests, lands and natural resource operations said any municipality interested in creating a wildlife bylaw, which would include proposals on leg-hold traps, must work in consultation with the ministry.

The ministry is currently reviewing how to handle trapping bylaw requests by some municipalities, but has made no final decision.

The provincial spokesperson said traps must be monitored by the person who set them, and must be licensed by the province, unless the trapper is First Nations. Any traps on Crown land can only be placed on a registered trapline and must be checked a minimum of every 72 hours.

On private property, they must be set with the permission of the landowner, or through a permit. The traps are supposed to be checked every 24 hours.

In a case such as the coyote found in Abbotsford, where the animal had been able to drag itself away from the original trapping site, it’s not always clear who is responsible.

Critter Care performed an examination of the coyote and determined that it had been caught for at least two days, had chewed four to five centimetres into its own leg, the bone was broken and the wound was septic.

The AFPA suggests giving traps serial numbers or ID tags, so trappers could be identified.

Mike Morris, president of the BC Trappers Association, said their group is dismayed by the incident in Abbotsford. He said cases like this are usually due to inexperienced or unlicensed trappers experiencing a problem with wildlife and “taking matters in their own hands.”

“I would say it’s from somebody who has no experience on how to set them and where to set them and had no ethics in looking after it once it was set.”

He said the association would be open to more effective regulation, and the association has considered the idea of having licensed trappers put a name and phone number on traps, but this would not assist in finding people who are trapping illegally or irresponsibly.

He said if people are walking with their pets in the bush, they should assume there is a possibility of traps. He said identifying traps with signs is an issue, because people often steal or dismantle legal traps.

Morris said the association has heard of several incidents of animals being inappropriately trapped in urban areas this year, and it is becoming more prevalent, but said these issues often arise on private property. He said an experienced and licensed trapper would check their trap every 24 hours to ensure an animals wasn’t needlessly suffering.

Angela Fontana from Critter Care said the number of animals brought to them after being caught in traps has increased in the past few years.

In the past year, the organization has been brought about 10 animals, mainly raccoons and skunks, from across the Lower Mainland. The animals usually have to be euthanized. Though Critter Care generally deals with wildlife, Fontana said she knows household pets are occasionally caught in traps.

Elizabeth Melnick, from Elizabeth’s Wildlife Centre in Abbotsford, said they received the call about the coyote, but forwarded it to Critter Care, which is better equipped to deal with large animals.

She is distressed by the incident, calling the traps “brutal” and “horrific.”

Dr. Ken Macquisten, a veterinarian at the Whatcom Road Veterinary Hospital, said the incident raises concerns for the pet-owning community.

“I’m dismayed to know this incredibly cruel method … is being employed in Abbotsford.”

He said as a pet-owner and a veterinarian, he is worried that there is no way to know where traps are set, even though they can cause serious injury to animals and for smaller dogs, can cause death.

The ministry does not keep statistics on how many pets are caught in traps each year, as there is no requirement for a trapper to report the capture of a household pet.