In the News  Archive

With the cold, fall brings traps to Adirondack forest

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October 1, 2016 

As the nights grow chilly in the Adirondacks, trappers ready their equipment for catching and killing some of the park’s wild animals — otters, beavers, marten, bobcats, muskrats, foxes, skunks, opossums, weasels, mink and coyotes.

All can be trapped in the Adirondacks (and elsewhere in the state) in seasons that start usually in late October and stretch into the winter or the following spring.

Fishers and marten can be trapped just in November, while mink and muskrat can be trapped from Oct. 25 through April 15 in most of the Adirondacks.

A national organization that advocates against trapping and trophy hunting — Born Free USA — has been promoting an undercover video, “Victims of Vanity II,” made last winter and partly filmed in the Adirondacks as part of an effort to get legislation passed that restricts trapping.

The video shows an Adirondack trapper at work, while asserting that trapped animals suffer after being caught and are sometimes killed in inhumane ways, that traps catch all sorts of animals indiscriminately and that trapping is neither important to local economies nor necessary for the clothing industry or for wildlife management.

“They’re cruel. They’re indiscriminate. They’re very dangerous,” said Jennifer Place, program associate with Born Free USA, which is based in Washington, D.C.

“They’re unnecessary. We don’t need to be wearing fur. There’s high-quality faux fur.

“When it comes to wildlife management, there’s a whole toolbox of ways to accomplish that, including live traps,” she said.

Within the Adirondack Park, where local officials are often at odds with the leaders of environmental groups over land use issues — such as whether mountain bikes should be allowed on wilderness trails — trapping is supported both by local politicians and environmentalists.

“Same thing as hunting and fishing,” said David Gibson, managing partner of Adirondack Wild, an environmental group. “We certainly don’t oppose it.”

“There’s an acceptance of trapping, hunting, fishing of natural resources that dates back a long way. I’ve always felt an alliance of conservation groups and environmental groups is critical,” he said.

“In general, we support hunting and trapping as management tools for wildlife, and we’ve only occasionally gotten involved in what appropriate methods might be,” said John Sheehan, spokesman for the Adirondack Council, the largest environmental group in the Adirondacks.

“In general, we have been supportive of traditional sporting opportunities and have not opposed hunting and trapping in the Adirondacks,” he said.

Fur or against

With raccoon pelts now worth $3 to $5 each, beaver pelts $12 and bobcat pelts about $50, you have to love spending time in the woods to be a trapper, because otherwise the time you invest isn’t worth the amount of money you can make, said John Rockwood, president of the New York State Trappers Association.

“It’s a lifestyle, a love of the outdoors. We love matching our wits with the wits and habits of the animals and enjoying what was provided to us,” he said.

In terms of income, “you could have a minimum wage job and make a lot more money,” he said of trapping.

Nonetheless, about 13,000 state trapping licenses are issued each year, and the income from it, although small, can be helpful to rural families not making a lot of money to begin with, Rockwood said.

Rockwood objects to the use of the term “recreational trapping” because, he said, even though few trappers do it as a full-time job, “we’re not harvesting animals for fun.”

Fur is a global business, with many of the sales taking place in Europe, Russia and China. U.S. and European Union sanctions against Russia have hurt fur sales and depressed the value of pelts in recent years, he said.

“Wearing or utilization of fur in garments, it’s a pretty green resource,” he said, explaining that the fur-bearing animals reproduce, replacing animals lost to trappers. “No fur-bearer in the state of New York is in jeopardy of survival.”

Jennifer Place, the spokeswoman for Born Free USA, argues that high-quality faux fur can be substituted in garments, sparing animals the suffering they experience getting trapped and killed.

Foothold traps are “designed to hold the animal as painlessly as possible,” Rockwood said, and trappers kill the animals humanely, usually with a shot to the head.

Some beaver traps are designed to drown the animal, but Rockwood said they hold their breath underwater and suffocate rather than drown.

“This idea how painful it is is way blown out of proportion,” he said.

Across most of the state, trappers are required to check their traps at least once every 24 hours. In much of the Adirondacks, because of the remoteness of many areas, the requirement is once every 48 hours.

A delicate balance

Trappers argue they help with population control of animals that can be destructive, like beavers, and help to maintain a natural balance by limiting the number of predators, like bobcats.

“Bobcats need a huge range to find enough food. If you let that population of bobcat grow too large, the prey population suffers. It’s man’s job to keep it all in balance,” Rockwood said.

“The anti- people, they don’t get that part — man is an integral part of nature and the one animal that can think and be smart enough to manage populations,” he said.

Several environmental organizations did oppose the lengthening of the bobcat trapping season (from two months to four), which the state ordered in 2013.

Bobcats kill animals like deer, squirrels, rabbits and rats that can cause damage to human and natural environments if they reproduce unchecked, according to arguments made at the time by the Adirondack Council, among other groups.

Also, bobcats are valuable as tourist attractions, according to Sheehan, spokesman for the Adirondack Council, and other environmentalists. Spotting one is a thrill, and even seeing signs of the cats, like tracks in the mud or snow, can be exciting, they said.

Wildlife management in New York and elsewhere tends to focus on hunting considerations because of the way the programs are funded, said Peter Bauer, director of Protect the Adirondacks.

The money flows to the states from the federal government, through the Pittman-Robertson Act, which imposes a tax on guns and ammunition. Money from the tax gets distributed to states based on their size and their number of registered hunters, among other factors.

New York wildlife management tends to maximize the deer population, for example, Bauer said. That means more deer for hunters, but also increases the number of car-deer collisions.

Bauer would like the state to look at lowering the number of deer and boosting Adirondack tourism by bringing back to the region large predators such as wolves and cougars (also known as mountain lions).

A study published earlier this year in the journal Conservation Letters supported Bauer’s thesis that the return of cougars to eastern states could reduce the size of the deer population enough to prevent numerous human deaths and injuries in car accidents.

Deer now cause more than a million collisions a year nationwide, resulting in more than 200 deaths.

What gets trapped

One of the biggest objections to trapping is that the trap does not distinguish among species but snaps shut on whatever trips it.

Nancy Kimball, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in Bolton, recounted an episode from 2009 when a bald eagle was caught in a trap in Speculator, and she became a member of the team that worked to nurse it back to health.

The eagle, with its leg caught, had managed to pull the trap out of the ground and fly up until it became wound around a tree limb. Its foot developed an infection and it took the human caregivers four months to nurse it back to health, Kimball said.

Feeding the eagle required four people, all wearing gloves and face shields, she said.

A trap “cannot control what it catches,” said Jennifer Place of Born Free USA. “It could be a human leg or a dog or an endangered species or a falcon.”

Will Doolittle is projects editor at: The Post-Star

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