To the man that has never followed the trails of the trapline, I can only say, “You have missed much.” You will find him rich in health, happiness, and the things in life that are most worthwhile, and mellow with the memories of a life in the great, clean outdoors. “Ah, for the life of a millionaire” say some; but just let me stay a trapper.
— Bill Nelson, trapper/author
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Modern trapping is a highly regulated activity in which a small (yet very important) number of people participate. Skilled trappers provide their state or province with irreplaceable ecological and societal data and benefits, such as managing & Monitoring abundant furbearer populations. This long-standing cultural activity remains relevant and necessary on today’s landscape.



Overview

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Regulated trapping of fur-bearing wildlife has played an integral role in modern conservation. Whether for self-reliance, understanding, or conflict abatement for the protection of health & safety, the activity of regulated trapping has played an extremely important role in conservation biology & funding/advocacy for fur-bearing species throughout North America.

Fur trapping in North America dates back to the very early inception of developing the continent as we know it today. Settlers and pioneers utilized fur trapping and hunting techniques to survive, explore, and carve out a monetary living in America’s wilderness. The modern activity of trapping in today’s world is engaged upon by thousands of people, for a magnitude of differing reasons. For some, it may be for curiosity, seeping deep into the natural world and matching wits with creatures that are not commonly hunted or preyed upon. It may be to gain a better understanding of how fur bearing animals act or behave – understanding individual characteristics. Or, it may be a way to temporarily break away from the “daily grind” of modern society - to more intimately immerse oneself into the natural order of our wild places.

For many, the tools and tactics derived from wilderness traplines in the fur trade are applied today in the nuisance wildlife control industry; as the same principals of fur management meld into conflict mitigation in urban environments. For many more, it’s an activity built from heritage; a trade or skill passed down from generation to generation. Many modern biologists and accredited wildlife management professionals also partake in the activity to assist with study, or to better understand furbearer characteristics.

Whatever one’s reason for engaging in regulated trapping today, the individuals tied to the practice tend to be passionate conservationists; deep seeded in knowledge, rationale, and respect for both land and wildlife populations as a whole.

While the above-mentioned reasons alone would suffice for those engaging in the activity of trapping, they may not be reason enough for “the non-trapping” sector of the public to fully support regulated trapping on today’s landscape. Fur trapping does have a tumultuous past; where animal pelts were procured in an unregulated fashion, with little regard for animal welfare or wildlife balance. With these facts in mind, one must ask, “why has the activity of regulated fur trapping survived into the 21st century?” What modernized examples could necessitate such a “niche” activity remaining heavily regarded by biologists and wildlife management agencies across North America? What advancements have been made to place animal welfare and humane treatment at the forefront of the activity? Furthermore, what examples and facts would be sufficient enough to comfort those who don’t trap or hunt?

(Photo | National Parks Service)

(Photo | National Parks Service)

The fact is that modern trapping is a highly regulated activity in which a small (yet very important) number of people participate. Skilled trappers provide their state or province with irreplaceable ecological and societal data and benefits, such as managing abundant furbearer populations at no cost to other residents. This long-standing cultural activity remains relevant and necessary on today’s landscape. For example, regulated fur trapping activities have been scientifically proven to provide reductions in flooding damage by beavers, minimizing disease risks in animal species, and provide critical tools for wildlife conservation.


Wildlife Management

A tissue sample taken from a trapped and anesthetized raccoon. (Photo by Anson Eaglin, USDA-APHIS)

The crown jewel for trapping’s relevance today lies right in line with science. If humans were not present on the landscape today, perhaps the argument of managing wildlife populations wouldn’t have as much bearing - but the fact remains that humans are here to stay. For years humans negatively impacted other wild species of plants and animals through unregulated cull and urban development. The Teddy Roosevelt era of conservation opened a new mindset of conserving, rather than molesting, our wild natural resources.

Trappers today are the quintessential "boots on the ground" with regard to wildlife monitoring. The trapper recalls minute details, and can pick up on subtle changes within a given habitat. Licensed trappers in many states supply yearly “trapper harvest reports” which help biologists track individual species and identify population trends. Surveys and selective carcass turn-in programs assist wildlife management agencies with irreplaceable data collection when the need arises to research specific fur bearing species or diseases. Contrary to popular belief, not too many state wildlife agencies are funded enough to take head-counts on animals like weasels, skunks, and foxes. Unless there is substantial data to suggest additional resources are needed to monitor a particular fur bearing species, many state wildlife agencies won’t exhaust their resources on abundant furbearer populations. So how do state and provincial biologists gather important data to monitor furbearers? The answer is simple: trappers – who have a vested interest in the natural resources of these species and their habitats – to produce data and information regarding population health.

Vermont biologist inspects muskrat pelts. ( Image copyright    Northern Woodlands   . )

Vermont biologist inspects muskrat pelts. (Image copyright Northern Woodlands.)

These agencies rely on the data, sightings, reports, and assistance from their state’s licensed trappers to help monitor these abundant species. This is one of the many reasons why today, despite a decline in our trapping ranks, wildlife professionals still look to licensed trappers and ethical trapping activities for important information regarding furbearers.


Human/Wildlife Conflict

A raccoon on an urban rooftop. (Photo by Adam Muise)

Another equally important pillar of support for modern trapping is our own growing populous. Many people look at hunting and fur trapping as negative impacts to wild species, when in reality, the irrefutable fact is that loss of habitat is the biggest detriment to North America’s wildlife today. Our human population expansion shows no signs of slowing down, and as a result, we have guaranteed a future rife with conflict amid displaced wildlife and human beings.

It’s very easy to point blame and resentment at the licensed hunter or trapper for their utilization of abundant wildlife resources, but keep in mind that every home, developed property, and every sprawling highway accounts for more wildlife deaths annually than hunting and trapping activities combined. When conflicts with wildlife inevitably arise, it is typically the licensed trapper who answers the call. In states like New Hampshire, wildlife agencies rely on commercial wildlife control trappers to mitigate conflict.

Whether its flooding damage to roads, septic systems, or property from beavers, livestock or domestic pet depredation from predators, rabies scares and attacks, or furbearers making residence in and around our homes, licensed trappers handle the demand – in many cases at no cost to the landowner, taxpayer or municipality. States that have greatly reduced or restricted trapping activities through political debates have bore witness to increased costs incurred by commercially-driven mitigation tactics to reduce overabundant furbearer populations. Read more on this topic in our A World Without Trapping section.


Sustainability & Biodiversity

Piping Plover with chicks (public domain image).

For years, trapping critics have asserted that trapping somehow negatively impacts endangered species. On the contrary, regulated trapping activities have been integral components of endangered species recovery programs around the world.

Piping Plovers and other endangered ground nesting birds are in constant jeopardy from abundant egg-hunting predators such as raccoons, opossums and skunks – animals that are in greater abundance by comparison. Scientific studies have determined trapping to be one of the most effective tools at reducing depredation on sensitive species, and encourage resurgence in the hatch-ling survival success rate of many endangered birds.

In Missouri, for example, when River Otters were extirpated in certain parts of their traditional home ranges throughout the state, licensed trappers came to the rescue lending their skills to assist with trapping and relocation. 

The North American river otter - a true conservation success story.  (Public domain image) .

The North American river otter - a true conservation success story. (Public domain image).

In this case, the very same live-catch foothold traps utilized by trappers were used in the reintroduction process. The traps were also used for endangered species research with Canadian Lynx in the state of Maine.

Licensed trappers have also lent their time and expertise to Fisher reintroduction in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, as well as studies on bobcat population health in New Hampshire. These examples and many like them would fail to be successful without regulated trapping taking place on the landscape.


A Natural Understanding

There are thousands of ways for you to experience nature in North America. Whether majoring in wildlife biology or ecology, living close to rural areas where wildlife exists, or spending time researching and reading about wild animals - the possibilities to familiarize yourself with nature is endless. That being said, its pretty safe to say you can’t fully understand the characteristics of a short tailed weasel from a quick walk on a hiking trail. You can read all the books in print about weasels, but do you really understand these creatures? Or are you simply digesting print from a page?

The author inspects the function of a beaver trap before being placed in an ideal location.

A successful trapper understands their query intimately. In thousands of acres of forested land, the trapper must convince a wary and cautious creature to pass through a space or step in a specific area no bigger than the diameter of a silver dollar.

This doesn’t happen by a stroke of luck, and it isn’t bred out of sheer laziness, as the “animal rights” crowd would have you believe. The trapper must fully and intimately understand the creature he/she seeks to catch, and this can only be accomplished through years of close and meticulous study of that animal’s traits and behaviors. What makes a mink cross “here” instead of “over there”? What causes an Eastern Coyote to avoid one particular trail, while trotting down another? These are answers the experienced trapper holds, and it’s a prime example of why curious nature lovers and biologists alike always request input from the local trapper. Trappers know the animals they seek to catch; in most cases much closer than other faucets of the public.


Wise Use of a Natural Resource

Food and Fur – as stated in the guidelines for the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. This model, guided by John F. Lacey, Aldo Leopold and many others suggested that a commercial perversion of our wildlife and wild resources needed to end. Long gone are the days of frivolous culling of wildlife for commercial or monetary gain, and in their place now rests regulated activities that seek to conserve rather than recklessly expel.

Critics use the North American Model today as an argument for why fur-trapping activities should cease; suggesting that the selling of animal pelts is an example of “commercial gain or manipulation”. However, the idea of why such a model and concept were created to begin with is regularly overlooked.

Its important to keep in mind that during the inception of the North American Model, wildlife was harvested indiscriminately for commercial markets, which contributed greatly to the extirpation of many species of wildlife, and the near extinction of countless others. Our natural forests and plains were the “wild west” – a lawless place where consumption ruled over conservation.

With parameters now put in place to regulate hunting and trapping activities, abundant wildlife populations could be more strictly managed. For some creatures, such as coyotes or skunks, edible meat isn’t necessarily desired, although management practices still need to take place to ensure a healthy balance. Rather than utilizing as a food source, these creatures are desired more as a means of natural warmth in the form of clothing or trim made from their fur pelts. The alternative, if not utilized for their fur, would be culling and wasting surplus individuals – thus violating one of the primary cruxes of the North American Model; wise use without waste.

An array of different animal pelts, which once tanned, pose diverse use as a natural resource.

Additionally, wild animals targeted by licensed trappers during regulated trapping seasons are utilized for more than just their pelts. For example, beaver meat is part of a staple diet for many trappers. The pelt is used, as are the animal’s scent glands for an array of purposes. The tail leather is used for wallets, sheathes and other leather goods, and the skull and bones are typically sought after by educational or artistic markets. Essentially every part of the animal has a use and a purpose for the trapper. The same cannot be said for overabundant nuisance wildlife culled outside regulated seasons, or animals that are frivolously struck and killed on roadways, expire from disease, or become displaced from habitat loss.


Financial Support for Wildlife Conservation

Trapping also provides financial support for conservation and wildlife. Sticking with the Teddy Roosevelt theme, the inception of The Pittman-Robertson & Dingell-Johnston Acts paved the way for a “pay to play” concept of ensuring conservation was always funded. These acts both utilize taxes on hunting and fishing equipment with the intent of assisting funding for state wildlife agencies and conservation-related programs. Hunters, Anglers and Trappers directly support conservation through these acts every time they purchase specific equipment pertaining to these activities. The same can’t be said for the purchase of kayaks, binoculars for bird watching, or hiking equipment – materials purchased by individuals who, in recent years, have made the biggest fuss over hunting and fishing activities.

(Image courtesy of RMEF)

(Image courtesy of RMEF)

To add to the examples above, purchase of licenses and stamps for hunting and trapping activities in turn provides direct support for wildlife management.

Education programs, outreach events, educational specimens, and other forms of volunteered support are also furnished greatly by hunters and trappers – without any demand for reimbursement other than the opportunity to immerse themselves in the wild landscape on a more primal and intimate level.