BEST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES FOR TRAPPING IN THE UNITED STATES: NEW TOOLS FOR AN OLD TRADITION
By: Bryant White
Regulated trapping is an important part of wildlife conservation and management in the United States and it has many uses. Trapping has been used in modern times to capture animals like wolves and river otters for population restoration and reintroduction. In the past, before the era of modern wildlife management and conservation based on science, these species were extirpated in large areas of their historic range. Today, as a part of modern wildlife conservation they have been trapped in areas where their populations were abundant and relocated to establish new populations. These species are common to over abundant in many parts of their historical range once again and trapping played a key role in their conservation.
Trapping is also used to protect endangered species such as the whooping crane, sea turtles and the black footed ferret from predators like coyotes and foxes. These species might be extinct if trapping were not used to protect them during the vulnerable periods of their life cycle. Domestic livestock, public and private property and public health and safety are also protected with trapping. Coyotes and wolves preying on cattle, sheep and goats, beavers building dams that flood roadways, agricultural fields and public water supply and skunks and raccoons with diseases living under the dwellings of people all make for situations where trapping is needed. Trapping is also an important component of animal population control efforts and capturing animals for research activities. Biologists use trapping to collect important data about wildlife including information about wildlife diseases like rabies that can affect people, and to keep tab of changes in animal populations.
Furbearer species in the U.S. are abundant and they are managed as a valuable natural resource. Biologist closely monitor furbearer populations using rigorous scientific methods and they create trapping regulations that benefit all wildlife populations. When a private trapper goes a field to harvest animals, that trapper is doing only what is allowed for good conservation and management. Maintaining animal populations at responsible levels that is good for animals and people is the goal. Regulated trapping is an activity practiced on few and specific furbearing species that are abundant or overly abundant in their habitats. The regulated trapping season generally lasts only a few months and most species are trapped during the late fall and winter when young born the previous spring and summer are independent and pelts are prime. Only licensed trappers are allowed to trap during strictly regulated trapping seasons. The types of traps that may be used, and when and how they may be used is mandated by laws and regulations. Conservation agents strictly enforce the laws and regulations and violators may be punished with fines, loss of privileges and incarceration.
Trapping has a long history in the U.S. as a cultural activity. Fur trappers from Europe lead the western expansion and settlement of the U.S. These trappers and voyageurs braved the rugged mountains and wild rivers to establish trading posts along the major waterways and trade routes. Many of these sites are now some of the largest cities in the U.S. Native Americans also took up trapping and used furs not only for their own needs, but to barter and trade. Trapping is used today in the U.S. by state and federal wildlife conservation agencies, researchers, Wildlife Control Operators and private fur harvesters. There are approximately 300,000 trappers in the U.S. and that number is definitely on the rise. With fur prices on the increase over the last few years, some old trappers are coming back and many new trappers are taking up the old tradition.
But, things have changed, there are new tools for the old tradition. Traps and trapping techniques have improved over the years. Since 1997 the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, in conjunction with state and federal wildlife agencies and private trappers has led an effort to develop Best Management Practices for Trapping (BMPs) in the U.S. The BMP program in the U.S. evaluates traps based on five criteria: animal welfare, safety, selectivity, efficiency and practicality. To evaluate the traps, initially field projects are conducted where animals are captured by expert trappers. Each trapper is accompanied by a technician who records important data about how the trap performs in the field. After capture, animals are shipped to a lab and necropsied by wildlife veterinarians who look for injuries related to the trapping event. The animal welfare criteria used to evaluate traps is based on the protocol develop by the International Organization for Standardization. The data from the lab and the field are then analyzed and traps that meet all five criteria are recommended for use through species specific BMP documents. A separate document for each of 23 species is being developed, with 21 already complete. BMPs are used in trapper education in the U.S. Without a doubt, BMPs have heavily influenced the traps that trappers are now taking afield. The program has been and continues to be a great success story in wildlife management. Trapping BMPs can be found at http://jjcdev.com/~fishwild/?section=best_management_practices