Outfoxed: Revisited

Merriam-Webster defines the word Irony as (1) incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result. (2) an event or result marked by such incongruity. 

My, my, what an ironic summer I've had. 

I recently wrote about wildlife management turmoil in the Granite State, as NH Fish & Game enrolled itself in a pissing match with anti-hunting rabble rousers and licensed hunters/trappers. You can read all about the unnecessary drama HERE; I've been told its a pretty good read.

I can't help but feel like those with an axe to grind against the trapping community took advantage of a potential decline in the state's fox population as a grandstanding attempt to attack trapping, predator management, and the NH Fish and Game Commission's decision to ultimately pull back those proposed restrictions. I mean, surely the "environmentally conscious" individuals who utilized trapper-furnished CPUE data to determine fox numbers are declining know that only 5% of the overall fox population is exposed to legal traps, right? They've got to know they're debating an activity that takes place during a mere two-month season, right? Right? 

Add the fact that regulated trapping activities could aid in determining a possible cause of a perceived decline, and one starts to realize the war-cries to "end predator trapping" in New Hampshire are comparable to banning water during a forest fire.

One of two fox kit carcasses believed to have succumed to a disease-related death.

While the tug-o-war over foxes and their management was raging in Concord and throughout the editorial pages of the local papers, my primary reason for criticizing the Department's original decision to remove licensed trappers from the fox management toolbox was playing out in my very own backyard.

It took a lot of soul-searching on a warm September night, staring down countless images of diseased foxes whilst nursing a glass of smokey Islay Scotch to churn this column out. The aforementioned mixture was the perfect combination for a salty, smug editorial column richly riddled with spite.


Spring's yearly cycle.

The saga began this past spring. I discovered a freshly excavated animal den in a sand berm mere yards from my own driveway. It belonged to none other than Vulpes vulpes fulvus - New England's red fox. This wasn't totally surprising as the vixen had chosen a similar location a few years ago, and previously raised a litter I was lucky enough to watch grow throughout the summer. Kits from that first litter were eventually found barely clinging to life in a neighbor's yard. The cause of death never identified. The mortal ailment had all the telltale characteristics of Canine Distemper Virus (CDV), although for a myriad of reasons, that determination was never officially confirmed by state officials.

I watched this year's fox kits grow up, as I had the litter from a few years ago. It started with little ears attached to little heads poking their way out of the den's main entrance. By May, the kits could be seen crossing the road in front of my property as the pups explored new terrain. Pretty soon I bore witness to playful fox wrestling matches on my front lawn. This was followed quickly by nightly fox shrieks and the inevitable piles of feathers and bone scraps peppering the yard from the vixen's increased hunts to sustain her young. The neighbor's free range chickens were clearly visited on a nightly basis. I originally counted five pups; although only three were regularly seen at a given time once the young started venturing away from the den.

While environmental protectionists were pushing hard for hunting & trapping restrictions on NH's foxes, the lanky juvenile foxes at my property were frolicking in the driveway day and night. Over time, three foxes became two. Then two foxes became one. Then shit hit the proverbial fan in a real detrimental way.


Nature's Way

In early July, I noticed one of the kits again frequenting the yard on a constant basis. The animal I observed was coming and going at all hours of the day. The fox had squinted eyes, which were almost crusted shut, along with a coat of hair that appeared to be rotting off from the tail forward. Foxes tend to look a little mangy in the summer, before their coats grow thick and prime for winter. However this wasn't just a light summer coat; this was clearly the onset of Sarcoptic Mange.

In this photo taken from social media, the ultimate demise of one of the foxes inhabiting my property is documented, with the classic signs of Sarcoptic Mange present.

I knew what was coming, and in a few days the town's Facebook message boards flooded with reports of a "sick fox" being seen all over the village, showing limited fear in humans and frequenting oddly close to dwellings. It wasn't long before local law enforcement requested my trapping services to "deal with the issue" when the residential complaint calls became constant. I never did trap that fox, nor did I feel the need to. Nature was dealing with it instead, in nature's own way - a prime example of that "self-regulation" we've been hearing so much about lately. 

At the end of July, I discovered the bodies of two more fox kits under my camper trailer. They'd clearly left the den, and attempted to seek shelter or solace under the low clearance of the trailer. They'd died together, clearly litter mates, no bigger than the size of a house-cat. Judging by the state of their carcasses, they hand't been dead more than a week. No signs of depredation, injury, or physical mortality was present; suggesting the pups had either succumbed to the increasingly popular Canine Distemper virus, or consumed by some other form of disease. Mange, rabies, CDV, parasites, starvation - spin the wheel and take your pick. Despite being dead only mere weeks, the tissue was too far gone from the hot July humidity to be submitted to biologists for testing. Biologists usually prefer fresh tissue samples - and fresh carcasses submitted by hunters and trappers are ideal for this type of testing. I ended up leaving the pair under the trailer for the bugs to handle most of the cleanup. This past weekend, I finally moved the trailer to retrieve what the insects handn't finished off.

Two fox kits lie as they were discovered, clearly from a disease-related mortality.

As for that irony I spoke of? This depressing chain of events took place mere weeks after NH's "great fox season debate" on the apparently premature decision to further restrict fox hunting and trapping

Ironic once more, CDV could be better understood, and could potentially be addressed with the assistance of licensed trappers giving reports from the field, while also turning in carcasses for scientific study. Additionally, CDV, (like mange and rabies), being a density-dependent disease, could potentially be curbed or managed with regulated trapping taking place on the landscape. Biological facts that seem to have escaped the minds of those clearly hell bent on cutting licensed trappers out of wildlife management through any and all means necessary. 



I support regulated trapping activities primarily on the principles noted above. In a world tied to Facebook keyboards and noses buried in smart-phone apps, we're dramatically losing touch with the realities of nature. Consequently, society is moving away from self-reliant activities, foregoing the root concepts of conservation. We choke our rivers and oceans with plastic trash, while protesting the usage of biodegradable materials like fur. More and more people today refuse to accept the death of a wild animal at the "selfish" hands of hunters - regardless of the reasons, while turning their backs to the irrefutable laws of nature. Fair enough, and to some degree understandably so. But by removing wildlife population management (through regulated hunting and trapping), you are essentially flipping the proverbial coin to decide which species outlast nature's fury. Again, fair enough; but will those who decry hunting and promote a "hands-off" approach to wildlife conservation readily accept the outcome of those decisions? History seems to tell us "not so". 

What if one's seething hatred for the regulated use of wildlife through hunting and trapping meant sacrificing wildlife diversity for future enjoyment? Are we satisfied with the regular scraping of rotting fox carcasses off our suburban lawns? More importantly, will those who've viciously criticized trappers over the 2018 fox season debates in New Hampshire shed a tear or outrage for the foxes rotting away in my yard? Sadly for those critics, these decomposing truths, and the potential hundreds more not recorded, may fail to jive with anti-trapping narratives on a protest sign or Facebook post.