Trappers Are Ones in Box

Feb 02, 1999 No Comments

The following article appeared in The Times Union (Albany, NY), Feb. 2, 1999, and is reproduced here with permission of the author.
Trappers Are Ones in Box
By Fred LeBrun
FROM TIME TO TIME over the course of my journalistic career I have been urged to drop dead.
Such directives go with the territory in the opinion business, and strange as it seems, I don’t take any of it personally. It’s just a figure of speech.
Until I get letters and phone calls from the rabid anti-trapping crowd, and then I begin to wonder. The utterings lately are vile and intemperate, a touch deranged even, with the phone calls the worst. Letters to the editor are downright uncivil. I believe this is getting a little out of hand. Get a perspective, people.
Trapping is a legally licensed endeavor with a long and honorable tradition. Albany wouldn’t be here without trapping. Granted, it isn’t mainstream anymore, and it’s not television. Your hands really do get dirty. But even those who are adamantly opposed to it should be able to see that within the framework of trapping, there are right ways and wrong ways to do business, ethical and unethical behavior, humane and inhumane ways to capture and kill the furbearer. Now, of course there are those who feel that trapping itself is unethical. Fine, that’s a position. But I disagree. I don’t believe there’s a whit’s difference from an ethical perspective between shooting a deer, killing a trout or trapping a beaver. Or chopping off the head of a chicken, sticking the neck of a hog or poleaxing a steer. The result is pretty much the same for the animal, but you can most assuredly do all the above in a humane manner, or an inhumane and therefore cruel one.
We need trappers, and we always will. Certainly for those ”nuisance” animals, which somehow lose their Disneyesque cuteness once we hang that tag on them. Bambi doesn’t go out to play with Robby the Fox if Robby is rabid.
In 1996, Massachusetts yielded to the hysteria of the anti-trapping activists and banned leghold, bodygrip and snare traps. Essentially, a ban on trapping. Leaving only the use of live traps, which are simply not that effective with many species. The result has been a nightmare for the professional biologists and game managers in the state. Coyote populations in some regions including Cape Cod have exploded, resulting in what appears to be the first authenticated attack by a coyote on a small child. Like the coyote, the beaver has no beasts around to keep populations in check, and the flat tails are consequently threatening to make major pains of themselves. They do create new wetlands, that’s true, but they also flood roads and basements. Live trapping them won’t do any good because there’s no place to release them anyway.
Beaver complaints – that is, complaints by humans about beaver damage and not the other way around – have tripled in the last two years and that trend is expected to continue. In short, it’s a mess.
New York also has a problem with beavers. It’s a quiet, unpublicized one, but persistent. About 2,000 calls a year for trapping them out of places they are unwanted. The number of calls, says DEC biologist Gordon Batcheller, tends to remain constant regardless of the beaver populations because Castor canadensis will hone in on desirable territory. Even when they get blasted out, they will return to certain places. There are only about 2,000 beaver trappers in the state, Batcheller estimates, out of the 6,000 to 7,000 trappers licensed in New York. The price of pelts dictates that, to some degree, and right now the price is way down. Which in turn is due to the collapse of the Russian economy. Eighty percent of every furbearer trapped anywhere in the world, eventually finds its way to Russia. Russia drives the price of furs, and hence trapping.
But as a management tool for controlling beavers in the state, Batcheller says the trapper’s the thing. Limit the trapper, and the beavers will go wild. That would not be a pretty thing.
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