In absence of trappers, Arkansas issues cull permits

Arkansas Game & Fish have announced new permits for the year-round hunting/control of abundant furbearers.

“I think everyone knows that the reason we're doing this is we simply don't have people trapping and hunting raccoons and opossums like we did many years ago because the pelts aren't worth much," said Commission Chairman Ken Reeves, during a teleconference regarding the permit back in July.

"We're trying to fill that gap by letting private landowners reduce these predators on their property to try to boost their quail and turkey numbers." Reeves continued.

Furbearers such as bobcat, coyote, gray fox, red fox, opossum, raccoon and striped skunk may now be hunted year-round on private land in the state, without daily bag limits, under the new permit. A hunting license is not required to apply for the permits, but individuals who have had their hunting license suspended will not be eligible. The permits expire June 30 of each year. The permit can be accessed via the state’s website, here.

AGFC biologists do not believe the relaxing of current regulations (via the new permit) will cause a significant decline in predator populations on a statewide level. According to officials, the permit is geared more towards the ability of private land owners to mitigate high populations of fur bearing species on their own land. The permit system excludes public lands.

For years, turkey hunters have been especially vocal with state officials over reducing the number of fur bearing predators that they believe impact turkey poults, eggs and even adult turkeys themselves.

Raccoons, skunks, and opossums are common predators of ground nesting birds, which include turkeys, quail, and waterfowl. Delta Waterfowl is one of several bird hunting groups that have demonstrated a reduction in abundant predators can improve reproductive success for waterfowl in test areas.

Concerns were also noted over impact of adult fowl from species like coyotes and bobcats - which are common (and obvious) predators of wild game birds.

A view of the Arkansas Predator Permit application via the agency’s website.

Many organizations and wildlife professionals have also asserted that a lack of quality habitat limits quail and turkey productivity, in some cases far greater than impacts from mesopredators such as raccoons and skunks. As is the case with many states in the U.S., Arkansas’ wildlife habitat is diminishing considerably as a result of residential and commercial development. This reduction in crucial habitat tends to “bottleneck” predators and prey in remaining fragmented forests, resulting in concentrated areas of conflict between species.

Professionals (and clear evidence) assert that an overabundance of furbearers exacerbates not only conflict between wildlife species, but with humans as well, and supporters of the Arkansas predator permit maintain that the new plan aims to reduce this density contact between predators and prey in the absence of licensed trappers keeping the balance between the two.

Support for trapping Needed

For many in the hunting/conservation worlds, the announcement of Arkansas’ predator permit is a double edged sword. While the permit allows for a restoration of wildlife balance, it also raises concerns with the socially perceived wanton waste of natural resources - the furbearers themselves.

For this reason, the Game and Fish Commission is examining the possibility of connecting predator control permit holders with registered fur trappers. When a raccoon, coyote or other permitted animal is killed, the permit holder could then transfer the animal to a fur trapper who can then utilize marketable portions of the animal - such as glands and hides. This method tends to only be feasible during the colder months, when fur trappers are active, and the hides from fur-bearing animals are prime enough to exhibit usable value.

While licensed trappers find other avenues for their craft amid a society that has long since abandoned their skills, the wildlife (that so many against trapping claim to “protect”) appears to consistently be taking the brunt of “punishment” amid the licensed fur trapper’s absence.

The state of California, despite having one of the highest wildlife conflict trends in America (notably with both coyote and invasive nutria), recently trumpeted a statewide ban on fur trapping - the first in the nation.

With a market for fur and fur-related resources that ebbs and flows, constant vilification from activists and politicians, and a booming privatized wildlife control market, what’s a modern trapper to do?

An image from page 94 of "Animal snapshots and how made" (1905), depicts an Opossum preying on a nest of eggs.

As I’ve mentioned often - society is situated at a time in American culture where we are increasingly satisfied with turning cherished resources into a perceived “pest”, in what I can only describe as a vein attempt to both hoard/stockpile wildlife, and cast the licensed fur trapper as a “burden” to wildlife, rather than recognize the worth this subculture brings to the conservation table.

Individuals opposed to the notion of a broad-scale cull to deal with overabundant predators would be best served to support seasonal fur trapping - a regulated activity that imposes seasonal bag limits and restrictions rather than removal of an individual animal under the grounds of “nuisance” alone.

For the reasons above, as well as a plethora of others, it is imperative that both state agencies and those in the hunting/conservation communities remain outspoken about the benefits of regulated trapping, a need for public support of such activities, and encouragement of new (and ethical) participants in the activity of regulated trapping.

Sure, critters like raccoons and opossums look cuddly and charismatic, and administer a clear purpose and place in the wilds of North America. However, as we’ve seen time and time again, the bottom line is that the idea of both conservation biodiversity and “co-existence” is a multifaceted topic that warrants an open mind from all natural resource stakeholders.