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The Patriot News
Importance of trapping overlooked
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Suddenly the trapping ban of five years on a farm near my home has been lifted.
The anti-hunting, anti-trapping, animal rightist owner, who hasn't had any farming done on the 70 acres or so since he bought it and moved there from center city Philadelphia, has decided that just maybe he needs a bit of critter control after all.
Matter of fact, he approached me on the subject just the other day in a local grocery store.
Regardless of the mink- and raccoon-rich streams on the property, and the three farm ponds with populations of muskrats unheard of these days, I gave up asking his permission to trap there two or three years ago.
None of the facts about possible problems with overpopulation of the furbearers held any interest for him.
A big ol' raccoon that tangled with one of the guy's three Labrador retrievers and did enough damage to the dog to require a visit to the vet has accomplished what I never could, that and a few reports of rabid animals in the area.
Suddenly the guy from Philly is not so removed from the natural world as he had remained despite living in close proximity to it. Nature is no longer just something pretty to view through the window or on a stroll along one of the property's trails. It's real-time, on-the-ground reality, with real actions and consequences.
Trapping is no longer a dirty word, and I can't get traps onto the guy's property quickly enough.
Neighboring farmers, for whom I already trap and hunt their properties, wish a deer would have a go at one of the Labs. Their fields have been paying the price for the uncontrolled deer population on his property, and his ban on hunting remains firm.
The sudden disappearance of anti-trapping sentiment is something that other new owners of rural and suburban property, who grew up without the direct connection to nature that is almost second-nature in hunting and trapping families, may also be experiencing.
Pennsylvania "has always depended on trappers and other furtakers to manage its populations of furbearers, such as coyotes, foxes, beavers, raccoons and skunks," said Carl G. Roe, executive director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
"As a result, Pennsylvania's susceptibility to wildlife diseases such as rabies and mange, and its problems with crop and property damage caused by furbearers have been kept in check in areas where furtakers have access and permission to hunt or trap furbearers.
"Those Pennsylvanians who benefit directly from the services trappers, hound-hunters and predator-callers provide will quickly attest to their importance in wildlife management and the problems they alleviate.
"They help manage everything from weasels to coyotes and surely save a considerable number of farmers and property owners plenty of money in losses and repair bills."
Increasing anti-trapping sentiment in the general population, sagging fur prices in the 1990s, difficulties in gaining access to private property and increasing demands on leisure time spurred a decline in the ranks of furtakers nationwide in the 1990s.
As a result, furbearer harvests dropped and human-wildlife conflicts increased.
For example, in Pennsylvania 20 years ago, more than 200,000 raccoons were harvested, but last year, the raccoon harvest was little more than 100,000.
"The decline in raccoon harvests, as well as other furbearers, certainly was not reflective of a decrease in populations, but rather it was directly tied to a decline in participation and, in some cases, access provided to furtaker license buyers," Roe said.
"Trappers and hunters still annually remove about a quarter million surplus furbearers from the commonwealth's rural and suburban areas helping to align furbearer populations with the carrying capacity of the habitat they live in.
"In the process, they reduce the damages and encounters that residents -- and their pets -- will have with these animals on their properties.
"The effort also ensures motorists will find fewer carcasses along -- or attempting to cross -- the road."
The commission's 2005 Game-Take Survey indicated that furtakers took 106,082 raccoons (105,000 in 2003); 70,995 muskrats (71,500); 43,720 opossums (33,760); 40,551 red foxes (31,592); 20,377 coyotes (11,697); 17,616 gray foxes (15,956); 9,977 skunks (9,319); and 9,335 mink (6,494).
"Our furbearer harvests for many species have remained relatively stable over the past three years, but considerable jumps have occurred in coyote, opossum, red fox and mink harvests," said Matt Lovallo, commission furbearer biologist.
"Mink are thriving and appear to be expanding their populations in the southeast and central regions of the state. Coyotes are stable in the state's northcentral and northeastern counties, increasing in southeastern and southwestern counties.
"The red fox and opossum harvests were the highest since 1998 and likely were the result of increasing populations."
Most furbearers, except muskrats, remain underutilized.
Furtakers are taking a fraction of the renewable fur resource Pennsylvania historically has provided.
"Make no mistake, there's plenty of room for more trappers in Pennsylvania, and our residents would surely benefit from increased pressure on the state's furbearer resource," Lovallo said. "Trappers are important in wildlife conservation. Without their help, it would be a real challenge trying to manage the state's furbearers, particularly beavers."
Over the past 20 years, beavers -- reintroduced to Pennsylvania in 1917 -- have been expanding their range, primarily in the Susquehanna and Delaware river basins.
Left unchecked, beavers will drop shade trees in backyards, flood roads and sometimes adversely affect the quality of drinking water for municipalities.
"Trappers have done an admirable job managing Pennsylvania's beaver population," Lovallo said. "They are our first line of defense in managing beavers locally and they do it for free.
"Anyone who has suffered from beaver damages knows what a relief it is to have a trapper remedy the inconveniences and damages they can perpetuate."
MARCUS SCHNECK: (610) 562-1884 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Schneck's outdoor writing also appears today in Travel, tomorrow in Life Etc., Wednesday in Sports and regularly at www.PennLive.com
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