Practicing Conservationists

The Role Trapping Plays





Trappers Play A Key Role

In a world where humans interact with wildlife habitat in countless ways, management of certain animal populations will always be necessary.

Uncontrolled, many species can infringe on real human needs. We may only think of rodents or insects in a grain storage facility to appreciate the need for action.

Parts of the world, like Western Europe, are now so heavily urbanized that the main challenge for conservationists is to protect what little is left of wildlife habitat.

Even in these countries, however, wildlife must be managed. In Holland and Switzerland (often cited as places where trapping has been discouraged), state employees must now be paid to trap and shoot muskrats which are seriously damaging dikes, canals and river banks. Uncontrolled, muskrats are capable of astounding rate of reproduction: females can produce more than twenty young each year, while females born in the first Spring litters may produce their own young by Fall.

Some countries, including Canada and the United States, are fortunate to still have vast undeveloped lands and plentiful wildlife. The "surplus" produced by most wildlife species each year represents a valuable natural renewable resource for people living on the land in these countries.

Regulated trapping helps to smooth out the "boom and bust" cycles which characterize some wildlife populations when Nature is left to do the managing.

In many areas, animal populations must be controlled to protect human activities: bears destroy beehives; coyotes kill livestock; wolves prey heavily on young moose, deer and caribou which local people depend upon for food and income; raccoons raid cornfields; hungry deer and elk ravage winter-stored hay; foxes, mink and weasels have a taste for domestic poultry; beavers can flood farmland and roadways.

Wildlife can also serve as a reservoir for diseases (like rabies and tuleremia) which are potentially dangerous to humans. Beaver and muskrat can suffer horribly for weeks before finally succumbing to tuleremia or other infectious haemorrhagic diseases. (Foxes with rabies also take weeks to die.) Natural, yes, but hardly "humane".

Household pets are susceptible to distemper, rabies, heartworm, parovirus, mange and leptospirosis, all of which can be acquired from infected furbearers. According to Charles Pils, a biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources;

While trapping is not the solution to every wildlife disease outbreak, under certain circumstances it can reduce threats to the health of humans and domestic animals ... By removing population excesses which promote diseases such as canine distemper...in a localized situation, trapping can reduce and even stop the spread of a disease outbreak.


CAN'T TRAPPING THREATEN ANIMAL POPULATIONS?

No, because trapping is highly regulated and controlled. Today, all major fur-producing countries have implemented effective wildlife management programs. The trapper plays much the same role as a farmer: he seeks to maintain the maximum number of animals his land can support, in healthy condition, by removing some each year.


HOW IS TRAPPING CONTROLLED?

Trappers are licensed and the quantity of furs taken is constantly monitored by wildlife biologists. Government agencies control the annual harvest by setting limited "seasons" (sometimes only a few weeks) for each species. The dates and duration vary from region to region, according to local conditions. Where necessary, specific harvesting quotas may also be applied.


CAN NATIONAL CONTROLS FAIL?

That is always a danger. Poaching is a serious problem in some parts of the world. That was one of the reasons for the establishment of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES).

Since 1973, more than ninety countries have joined this international "safety net" for wildlife. Trade is monitored and controls are placed on the import and export of products from plants or animals which might be endangered by excessive exploitation.


WHY NOT USE GUNS INSTEAD OF TRAPS?

Most fur-bearing animals are nocturnal, well-camouflaged, wary and generally solitary. Traps are the only practical way to take them consistently.


WHAT ABOUT TRAPS WITH STEEL "TEETH"? DON'T THEY CAUSE INJURIES?

The use of such traps is no longer promoted by any trappers' association. Humane considerations aside, "teeth" aren't necessary to hold an animal. The only place you are likely to see such traps today is in a museum - or in the brochures of anti-trapping groups.


HOW LONG ARE ANIMALS LEFT IN TRAPS?

Furbearers are mostly nocturnal and so are generally taken late at night or in the early morning hours. Ideally, traps can be set one day and inspected early the next morning. In many areas, it is now required by law that live-holding traps be visited every twenty-four hours. Where quick-killing sets can be used, there is less urgency. Still, it is always in the trapper's best interest to visit his traps often.


DON'T TRAPS ALSO CATCH MANY OF THE WRONG ANIMALS - WHICH ARE JUST THROWN AWAY?

No. Trappers cannot afford to make the arduous tour of their lines just to discard unwanted animals - and they don't. In fact, trappers have many ways of assuring only the animals they want enter their "sets". These methods are explained in detail in trapper-instruction manuals.


SURELY THE MONEY EARNED FROM TRAPPING IS NOT IMPORTANT TO ANYONE THESE DAYS?

In many regions, trapping provides an important source of part-time income, especially during the winter months when other paid employment may be scarce.

Often, fur trapping is one component of a resource-based economy. People may harvest shrimp or fish, or they may work in forestry, agriculture or as guides during the summer months, and trap in the winter.

Many very skilled trappers hold regular jobs, but take their vacations during trapping season, valuing the extra income and the opportunity to maintain traditions they have been brought up with.

In the far north, the fur trade is one of the few sources of cash income available to people living in an essentially land- based economy. In such communities, even relatively small amounts of money can go a very long way. This is especially true for native people who account for a large number of Canadian trappers.


WHAT IS BEING DONE TO ENSURE HUMANE TRAPPING PRACTICES?

After years of preliminary work by trappers and others, a multi-million dollar research project has now been established under the administration of the Fur Institute of Canada, with research at several Canadian and U.S. universities, to identify the most effective and humane trapping systems for each furbearing species.

Trappers, government and the International Fur Trade Federation have supported and contributed funding for this important research.

Ultimately, the humane application of any trapping system depends upon the skill and care of the individual trapper in the field. For this reason, hand-in-hand with continuing research, training programs are being revised and expanded - to provide trappers everywhere with information about the best methods currently available. In many regions, such courses are already mandatory before receiving a trapping license.

Scott Hartman, president of the National Trappers Association, has said: For North America's more than one-half million trappers, the purpose of trapping varies - from assisting wildlife biologists in furbearer studies, to population and disease control, protection of habitat against soil erosion, and for food, clothing and income. And yet, thanks to good management practices, furbearers are more numerous in North America today than 100 years ago. The public needs to know that there is no trapping of endangered species and that we continue to research and encourage the use of the most effective and humane trapping techniques. Trapping has been an integral part of our American heritage, and we intend to see that it continues to contribute to abundant wildlife and sound management programs. Address to the NTA annual convention, at Peoria, Illinois, 11 August 1988.

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