Trapping Laws and Regulations in the State of California

The state of California has enacted specific statutes governing the trapping of wild animals. These laws serve a number of purposes, including the humane treatment of animals and as a means of protecting the ecosystem in the state more generally. If you will be involved in the trapping of animals in California for one reason or another, whether for the sport of “pest control,” you do need to have an essential understanding of what trapping laws permit and prohibit.

The Reach of California Trapping Law and Ordinances

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has established the Humane Wildlife Control program. The program is dedicated to ensuring “sound, ethical, and lasting solutions to wildlife problems – from mice to mountain lions.” Simply, all wild animals subject to trapping and taking are protected by these statutes and regulations. Indeed, when the Department is called upon to interpret the reach of these statutes and associated regulations, the agency has taken a broad approach to its application. 

Illegal Trapping or Taking Methods in California

California statutes and regulation set forth specific types of trapping or taking methods that are impermissible in the state. The following trapping or taking methods are absolutely prohibited in the state of California:

  • Steel-jawed leghold trap
  • Saw-toothed trap
  • Spiked-jaw trap
  • Body-gripping trap
  • Unregistered trap
  • Conibear traps larger than 6 by 6 inches

There is one exception to the use of a conibear trap larger than 6 by 6 inches. If such a trap is to be used wholly or partially submerged underwater to trap muskrat or beaver. If a trap is to be used to address a nuisance muskrat or beaver colony, a conibear trap larger than 6 by 6 inches is permissible.

State of California Trap Registration Program

The state of California has established a trap registration program. An individual who desires to utilize a trap to capture fur-bearing mammals, including nongame mammals, must utilize a trap that has been registered and issued an identification number from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The registration identification number must be stamped on the trap itself or on a metal tag attached to the device.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife emphasizes that the registration requirement extends beyond game animals. The Department unequivocally states that the registration mandate includes a homeowner that wants to trap any kind of wild animal in his or her backyard.

Disposition of a Trapped Animals

There is a considerable amount of confusion surrounding what can happen to a trapped animal after capture. One of the more common misconceptions is that you can trap and then release an animal somewhere else.

Pursuant to California statutes and regulations, you cannot trap and then release an animal at another location. Relocation of wildlife is prohibited in the state of California. There are a number of reasons for that prohibition, including the prospect of creating a nuisance in another location as well as upsetting the ecosystem in the area of release.

Undoubtedly, many homeowners and other types of property owners utilize the trap method to address issues with undesired animals with an eye to transporting a trapped animal somewhere else.

Laws and regulations in California require the immediate release or dispatch (killing) of a trapped animal. When it comes to dispatching (killing) a trapped animal, California law only permits a private citizen the ability to shoot such an animal. Keep in mind that each individual city in the state has its own rules regarding the use of firearms. Before using a firearm to dispatch a trapped animal, you also need to confirm that your local community permits that type of use of a gun.

The prohibition on dispatching a trapped animal does not extend to local, state, or federal government employees. Governmental officials can utilize chemical methods to dispatch a trapped animal. For example, you can contact your county animal control agency to address this issue.

Location and Placement of Traps

Pursuant to California statutes and regulations, a trap cannot be placed within 150 yards of residential property without the written consent of the homeowner. Initially, this prohibition was in place to protect pets from possibly being trapped. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has expanded that justification and prohibition. The Department now maintains that “this subsection provides neighbors an important right – a say in what happens to shared natural resources – the wildlife.”

Trap Visitation Requirements

California statutes and regulations establish specific trap visitation requirements. If you set a trap consistent with the requirements discussed thus far, you must also visit that trap at least once a day. If an animal is in the trap at the time of visitation, that animal must be released or dispatched at that time. You cannot note the animal in a trap and elect to return at a later time to deal with it.

Penalties for Violating Trapping Laws and Regulations

A violation of a provision of California trapping laws and regulations can be construed to be cruelty animals, which is prohibited by state law. The penalties associated with cruelty to animals in the state of California can include a fine up to $20,000 per incidence. In addition, depending on the severity of the allegation of cruelty to animals, a person can face a jail sentence for a misdemeanor or a prison term for a felony.

Contact the California Fish and Wildlife Department

The California Fish and Wildlife Department has established regional offices located across the state. You can obtain assistance with all matters associated with trapping. In addition, you can report a trapping violation. The regional offices are located at:

1234 East Shaw Avenue
Fresno, California 93710
(559) 222-3761

20 Lower Ragsdale Drive
Monterey, California 93940
(831) 649-2810

7329 Silverado Trail
Napa, California 94558
(707) 944-5500

3602 Inland Empire Boulevard
Suite C-220
Ontario, California 91764
(909) 484-0167

Rancho Cordova
1701 Nimbus Road
Rancho Cordova, California 95670
(916) 358-2900

601 Locust Street
Redding, California 96001
(530) 225-2300

San Diego
4949 Viewridge Avenue
San Diego, California 92123
(858) 467-4201

In addition, the Department can be reached by calling (916) 928-5852.

Hire a Professional

If you have an issue with a wildlife “pest” on your property, consider retaining the services of wildlife and eco-friendly rodent control professional. A professional not only understands how to humanely address a rodent issue but also knows what is and is not permissible under California wildlife laws and regulations.