Bash Those “Lowly” Trappers, At Your Own Peril
North America as we know it has reached a turning point in more ways than one. Politics, firearms, religion, drug addiction, environment - pick your poison and be prepared to debate heavily. We’re living in a new age, a new era; with fingertips full of social media selfies, big data, and isolated entertainment. Those of us who still bitterly cling to natural outdoor activities and pursuits look on dejectedly, and at times even cynically, towards a populous clearly growing more and more antithetical towards the hunting and regulated usage of natural resources.
Today, facts aren’t as necessary as once required to be, and sensationalism tends to win over in our mob-rule mentality. At a time where everyone demands their voice be heard, modern debate is less about the facts, and more about who’s the loudest.
Take regulated trapping for example. The taking of small game by way of trap is regularly scrutinized, criticized, and called upon by some to be disbanded. Whether it’s in the editorial sections of the local paper, a politician on a soapbox, or a crudely crafted social media campaign, arguments need not make complete sense provided there’s a “cause” to rally behind.
Traps lined with sharp toothed-jaws and animals painfully restrained awaiting their fate for days or weeks are far behind us. In the place of the unregulated 1930s fur-boom stands a modernized, highly regulated activity with thick restrictions, mandatory reporting of catch, cooperation with state & national biologists, and a community service element resolving wildlife/human conflict.
These points don’t stop the war-cries from critics who call for an end to the activity of trapping fur bearing species - despite whatever irrefutable benefits the activity poses to conservation as a whole.
Who You Gonna Call?
Who remembers the 1984 blockbuster film Ghostbusters? “Who ya gonna call” right? There’s a scene where the ‘buster’s “ghost vault” (full of trapped spooks) comes under scrutiny by the antagonist character Walter Peck - a skeptical EPA inspector. Despite the warnings of epic disaster from the Ghostbusters, Mr. Peck arrogantly orders the vault be shut down, in turn causing an explosion releasing thousands of vengeful spirits upon the city of New York. Those spirits create all kinds of havoc for the citizens of the city - its pure hysteria. It’s not long before the mayor of the city is pleading with the Ghostbusters to “clean up the mess”, while Mr. Peck is portrayed as the bumbling villain trying desperately to discredit the validity of the Ghostbusters.
Boy does that sound familiar.
Now I’m not suggesting the disbandment of regulated trapping activities is going to “unleash ghoulish hell” upon society; heck, a full-fledged trapping ban probably wouldn’t even be very noticeable - at first. But the effects will long be felt after the last steel trap is sprung for the final time.
The raccoon raiding your trash-can may seem cute enough, until he and his raccoon buddies are fighting tooth and claw for survival at your expense.
That skunk doing back-flips in your front lawn at 1-o’clock in the afternoon makes for a great “viral video”, but the spread of the distemper virus he’s suffering from isn’t the kind of “viral” the internet had in mind.
How about that crusty-eyed fox plagued with mange, starving, who out of desperation takes a bite at the unsuspecting child at the bus stop.
I don’t bring these examples up to spread fear or hatred towards wildlife. They're all real-life examples I’ve plucked right from recent headlines, and their impact can often be softened with regulated trapping activities taking place on the landscape.
Take a look at recent headlines across the country. In the wake of a reported “decline” in hunting and trapping activities, one need not wait long to catch a report of nuisance wildlife issues, disease outbreaks, or worse yet - attacks on people. Hey, maybe it’s all just a conspiracy put out by the “fur industry”. Or maybe it’s time critics of trapping start reformulating their arguments.
The 90’s: Question 1 & Prop 4
In November of 1996, Massachusetts voters approved a ballot initiative titled the “Wildlife Protection Act”. The initiative was launched by Wayne Pacelle’s Humane Society of the US, along with a group calling themselves the ProPAW Coalition (Protect Pets and Wildlife), which spent considerable campaigning on TV ads depicting house cats in foothold traps and dogs missing legs. The slogan “Ban Cruel Traps” evidently resinated with 64% of the state’s citizenry - securing the initiative’s passage. Prior to 1996, MA Fish & Wildlife would contact trappers to remedy beaver conflict situations. The system worked well; the trappers would make a little money off pelts and beaver glands, the state would collect a little license revenue from trapping licenses, and residents would be relieved of beaver conflict (in the form of flooding to property, compromising septic systems and polluting wells, just to name a few).
In two and a half years following the ban, Massachusetts’ beaver population expanded from 18,000 to almost 55,000 according to reports from Audubon Magazine. Lawmakers scrambled to make amendments to the ban when impatient residents, who had become completely dependent on the state’s game agency to handle beaver complaints, began breaching beaver dams in the dead of winter (when beavers don’t repair them, and endangered reptiles and amphibians are vulnerable to fluctuating water levels). It got pretty ugly. And whatever negative picture animal rights activists tried to paint of trappers before the ban, it paled in comparison to what unfolded in the state’s rivers and streams after the ban.
Still not convinced? Just as Massachusetts was feeling the negative effects of their trapping ban in 1998, California animal rights groups rolled out Proposition 4. The ballot proposition virtually eliminated animal trapping in California (despite the state already requiring rubber-padded trap jaws) and pitted conservation groups like The Audubon Society against (at the time) a “new wave” of environmentalist activism. Many legitimate conservation groups were concerned over the ban’s impact on management of “invasive” eastern Red Fox, who wreaked havoc on endangered bird species. At the time of Prop4, executive director of Audubon Society’s Golden Gate chapter, Arthur Feinstein stated "In a one-week period, (foxes) wiped out a rookery in the South Bay that contained several hundred herons and egrets and 2,000 Caspian terns." Of even greater concern was the endangered California clapper rail. "When the foxes showed up, there were about 1,700 (rails) in the state. By 1990, they were down to 300. Then the state started trapping, and now they're back to 700. If the trapping stops, the rail is doomed," he stated. Today, with the banning of the steel foothold trap (except for depredation protection), the red fox is still regarded as a detriment to endangered species in California - as of 2017 the state has experimented with sterilization and exclusion, to little or no avail.
Turning A Resource Into A “Pest”
Rather than focus on sustainability, should we cater to the emotional “social denial” that wild animals don’t die of their own free will? Should we mandate that our wildlife only be managed by disease, starvation, and highway vehicle roulette? Should we remove effective (and often scientifically humane) animal traps from the landscape and rely solely on the average citizen to shoot, poison, harass or otherwise improperly deal with increased nuisance wildlife issues?
Here in the Northeast, the final nail hasn’t even been hammered into the fur trapper’s coffin yet and we’re seeing “pest control” trappers (and their associated costs) increase. As more and more wildlife control pros are called upon to deal with the demand, it’s easy to forget those skilled trappers who are called upon to remedy flooded roads from beavers, livestock ravaged by predators, and attics torn to shreds from nursing mother raccoons.
And when it comes to nuisance control, there’s usually little (if any) time spent on the season, breeding, or ethical “usage” of the animal’s remains. Many states have laws prohibiting relocation of problem wildlife (due to spread of disease and public health) resulting in the euthanization of the animal. But who am I to stop “progress” and the ideological “evolution” of society, right?
Cultural Traditions Aside
Trapping comes with a deep seeded historical heritage, and for many, a link to their cultural heritage. But for the sake of argument, lets assume the “mob rule mentality” is in play, and set aside the cultural and traditional importance of fur trapping.
As an outspoken trapper in the 21st Century, I’ve been shoveling shyte from trapping critics since the very start of my trapping career. Well friends, now I’m dumping it.
To be frank, there is a little bit of arrogance that goes along with my walking the fine line between seasonal fur trapper and year-round wildlife control professional.
I’ve never had to “beg” to partake in trapping. Landowner permission via written permit is required to set traps in NH, and even when I’m trapping for pelts during the winter fur season there’s a purpose. With over a decade of trapping in New Hampshire’s woods, I’ve never once set foot on a property I wasn’t asked to place traps upon by the land’s owner to address some aspect of a wildlife conflict issue. Nine times out of ten, beaver conflict is the subject to access viable hunting terrain. I walk every tract of land with a reason for being there - the argument of greed, bloodsport, or mere “recreation” just doesn’t hold water.
Even when an immediate nuisance issue isn’t the primary focus, regional trappers are called upon by state wildlife managers and biologists for a myriad of expertise and data collection.
Case in point - New Hampshire’s trapping critics are clambering at the thought that fisher and fox populations are on a perceived decline. But alas, they refuse to give any credence to the fact that its the volunteering of reporting, field survey, and information from NH’s licensed trappers that got the conversation started in the first place, and licensed trappers may be able to assist with determining a decrease cause. Trappers advocate for the resource, report the facts and data, and clearly recognize the need for balance in nature; furnishing insight you can’t acquire from a recreational hiking trail - so try to leave the persecution out of that granola-based trail mix.
And when all else fails, the one-size-fits-all argument of “non-lethal alternatives” is a card that is always ready to be pulled. Beaver flow pipes can be a very good alternative to lethal management, however they are not a cure-all for every situation, or every property owner.
A beaver “flow pipe” isn’t “birth control” - and it isn’t going to change the fact that conflicts between 60lb sub-aquatic rats and people will continue to erupt. The hard fact is that you can’t hoard wildlife, it just doesn’t work. Somewhere, somehow, nature comes for her due and proper. Hunters and trappers are merely here to ethically utilize the surplus in a respectful manner. A trapping ban isn’t going to hurt me - my skills will always be in demand so long as man keeps breeding. The wildlife, and ultimately the sustainable resource are what will inevitably feel the effects.
Anyone who knows me, knows my advocacy for real conservation runs deep. When it comes to the wrongful persecution of hands-on wildlife management, I’m a pit bull off his leash. Critics and activists can stack the deck with funding, lobbying, and build that anti-trapping house of cards argument high. But unlike the restrictions that plagued Massachusetts in the 1990s, I won’t be as quick to let lawmakers, environmentalists, and the public forget about the inevitable repercussions of a trapping ban.