Kearns and Sons RS Aesthetics

The brain, ethics and trapping


In the last ten years more has been learned about the brain and how it functions than in the preceding several centuries. In the 1960’s, neuroscientists were able to divide the brain into three parts. Two of these, the basal ganglia and the limbic system share common structure and functions in all mammals from rats to humans It is within the limbic system that the thalamus and the amaydala lie, which  play the major role in the brain functions associated with pain and emotion. Those emotions include the ones we call fear, grief and anguish.

Think of yourself going about your normal daily activities. Suddenly, with great speed and force, the steel jaws of a Conibear trap spring closed around you from where it was concealed. Impacting your body the trap performs as designed. It  crushes your skull, your vertebra or other vital body parts. Or perhaps you become the victim of a leg hold trap. You struggle to free yourself, the traps jaws dig into your flesh sending spasms of pain up your leg. In your desperation to free yourself you bite at the steel, injuring your mouth. Your struggles may result in your dislocating your leg, twisting it off, or you may even gnaw it off in an effort to escape. Unable to extricate yourself, you are (legally) left exposed to the elements vulnerable to frozen appendages, dehydration, starvation and predation. If you survive this, your likely fate is to be bludgeoned to death or, if fortunate, shot. The primary goal is not to end your suffering but to preserve your marketable hide. Perhaps you’ve gone for a swim only to be caught by a trap holding you under water. Despite your panicked struggles, made in vain, you cannot reach the surface for life supporting air. You die of hypoxia. Or, you’re an offspring dependent for your survival on a parent that has been caught in a trap. Your fate now is to die a lingering death from malnutrition. You may just be one of the countless collateral victims of trapping.  Anthropomorphizing aside, this reveals the pain and suffering inherent in trapping.

We clearly recognize such acts as constituting torture, being inherently inhumane and morally unacceptable were they perpetrated against us. For years many believed, without any evidence, that only humans feel pain or emotions. We now know better. Dennis “Foothold” Schutz, former Vice President of the Montana Trappers Association, stated, “We trappers do cause pain and suffering to animals and we apologize to no one.” While Mr. Schutz recognizes the pain and suffering inflicted on the animals trapped, this is perfectly acceptable to him. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks.

There is a part of the mammal brain, the cerebral hemispheres with their outer layer the neocortex, which in humans has developed to a higher degree than in other mammals. This is where the higher thought processes, the ability to associate words with thoughts, the ability to problem solve and the ability to develop ethics, morality and a conscience lie.

Unlike hunting and fishing which are regulated for personal consumptive use, trapping is a commercial activity. The demand for the products, furs and cosmetics, significantly from Russians and Chinese, is driven by a desire for styles showing status and feeding vanity. There are numerous clothing alternatives to the skins of animals. Does our ethics, morality and our conscience allow us to condone an activity which causes pain and suffering in order to supply this market? In 1789, Jeremy Bentham, a major figure in formulating Anglo-American philosophy of law, wrote in Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation,  “The question is not, Can they reason? Nor Can they Talk? But, Can they suffer?” The wildlife in our state belongs to all Montanans. We each have a responsibility for its well being, and that depends on the laws we enact. I urge you to support ballot initiative I-169, for Trap Free Montana Public Lands, in order that all Montanans can vote this November, on whether they want our public lands, only one third of Montana, trap free for people, pets and wildlife. For more information and to help visit

Cindy Warden


8 Responses to The brain, ethics and trapping
  1. Harold Johnson
    May 29, 2014 | 4:31 pm

    I tend to disagree with you on all points, Cindy. I see no difference between using a conibear on a beaver or shooting a deer or elk…..actually, the conibear is more humain when set correctly and in the right place. I have seen way to many elk and deer shot and lost by unethical hunters that took a shot from to far away or wounded an animal that was running away to even make a case for your point. We have abundant beavers and other wildlife but there are many places where beavers don’t need to build a colony without jeopardizing roads, houses, irrigation projects, just to name a few. I know of more than a few people who subsist on trapping in the winter months and our fish and game requires tagging of several species before they can be sold.
    Your elegant prose in your letter somewhat equates the life of a beaver to that of a human…..hard to believe people. When they are flooding your home or property you might think differently. Keep in mind beavers are rodents….they reproduce very rapidly. We have an overabundance of them now and will have in the future regardless.

  2. rebecca vitale mandich
    May 28, 2014 | 3:20 am

    Thank you for an incredibly succinct argument against trapping.It must be stopped forever!please continue your work it is good and right. For those that can\\’t speak the language of humans their suffering is clearly something we can certainly all understand.

  3. Pamela Williams
    May 6, 2014 | 1:45 am

    I believe that humans are born with intact hearts and consciences. Those who torture and kill animals are aberrant, deformed individuals. What’s the difference between them and serial killers? They both exhibit extreme detachment and indifference to suffering, or even pleasure at the infliction of suffering. In my view, they are the antithesis of whole, mentally healthy people.

  4. Keli Hendricks
    May 5, 2014 | 2:35 am

    Beautifully stated, thank you, Cindy! Why is it that destroying a publicly displayed, man- made object is a crime, yet killing beautiful wild animals in the most heinous ways possible is considered a sport? This sport robs non consumptive wildlife viewers of the opportunity to enjoy the thousands of wild animals that are killed every year in cruel traps. Wildlife that we would have enjoyed from afar and left in peace so that others could enjoy them as well.

  5. Lee Eakins
    May 5, 2014 | 12:54 am

    Anyone who is trapping is already a low IQ idiot and that\’s obvious. Idiots keep the gene pool at low levels so no wonder human\”kind\” has much to be desired.

  6. Cheryl Kindschy
    May 4, 2014 | 1:21 pm

    Thankfully there is some one in the area who can think about the ethics of this awful trapping. To heck with it our heritage, some of our heritage is also a connection to cave men..this is an out dated activity and all they are doing is supplying other countries..we Montana peeps don’t like this and we are going to stand against this cave man activity.

  7. Scott Slocum
    May 2, 2014 | 8:48 pm

    Good letter, thank you!

    A note on an animal’s death underwater, caught in a trap: contrary to the claims of some trapping proponents, it’s not usually anoxia or hypoxia (Ludders et al. 1999). Anoxia or hypoxia can be a pleasant experience, but dying underwater in a trap can’t.

    Ludders, John W., Robert H. Schmidt, F. Joshua Dein, and Patrice N. Klein. 1999. “Drowning Is Not Euthanasia.” Wildlife Society Bulletin 27 (3): 666–70.

  8. Ben
    May 2, 2014 | 5:28 pm

    Well said. Trapping needs to go, and cannot be compared to ethical hunting or fishing.

Leave a Reply

Wanting to leave an <em>phasis on your comment?