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Justifying trapping
Editor's note: The following was part of a discussion thread on Paul Dobbins' Trapperman.com website which revolved around the topic of why we trap furbearers.  Special thanks go to Scott H. (Wiley E) for permission to use this article.

As trappers ourselves, many times we cannot agree on what our trapping justification messages should be.

We do have biological facts on our side that are extremely powerful.

First you need to separate "motivations" from "justifications".

Next you need to separate justifying "damage control trapping" from justifying "fur trapping".

Exercise, spending time outdoors, learning about animals, quality time with kids, etc. are "motivations" for trapping but that does not necessarily "justify" trapping for everyone.

Livestock predation and beaver damage can justify Animal Damage Control trapping but they do not necessarily justify fur trapping.

I usually justify "fur trapping" when I talk to groups.

Here is a short list of "fur trapping" justifications.

1. Trapping is regulated by the wildlife management agencies within each state.

The various wildlife management agencies regulate the many furbearers we trap by seasons, quotas, certain areas, etc.

The various wildlife management agencies also regulate the size of traps that can be used IN CERTAIN POPULATED SUBURBAN AREAS IN CERTAIN POPULATED STATES. There is also trap check regulations IN MOST OF THESE SAME POPULATED STATES.

2. Most trapped furbearers are common and abundant throughout the U.S.

a) muskrats
b) raccoons
c) red fox
d) coyote
e) beaver, etc.

At times, these species are actually overpopulated.

3. In the case of MANY wildlife species, nature produces a surplus population annually THAT MUST DIE.

Many times it's not a question of whether they will die but rather a question of how they will die.

The surplus populations of furbearers produced annually WILL DIE because you cannot stockpile wildlife beyond what the habitat can support (the "carrying capacity" of the land) for more than a very short period of time.

The time it takes for these species to reach the point of overpopulation depends on the species, the habitat, and where they are currently within the cycle. When pinned down with specific questions, it's best to break this down by species and give examples in specific areas.

For example, when water conditions are favorable, muskrats (the most heavily trapped species) can build up their populations above the "carrying capacity" of the habitat very quickly.

Muskrat's young CAN HAVE their own young by the end of a year. Muskrats are rodents and everyone knows how quickly rats and mice overpopulate. Under ideal conditions, a pair of muskrats can produce 75 offspring within a year by their own young having young.

Muskrats, when left unmanaged, have the ability to destroy their own environment and the environment they share with other species, particularly waterfowl. This habitat destruction is called muskrat "eat outs".

Excessive populations of muskrats, when not harvested, will usually die of disease and starvation.

With raccoons - distemper (and in some cases rabies) is the regulating mortality factor.

Distemper is a slow, cruel death and nature's alternative to man's population management. Distemper usually removes the surplus raccoons that are produced annually.

The raccoon belt is full of raccoon that have died of distemper. This information is backed by studies in Iowa and Wisconsin.

Rabies of course is a disease that threatens human health and safety. Backed by documentation during the Mid Atlantic Raccoon Rabies Epidemic.

With fox and coyote - mange is the regulating mortality factor. Backed by observations and studies in North Dakota, Wyoming, Texas, and South Dakota.

Mange is a caused by microscopic parasites called mites. These mites burrow under the skin and cause irritation which causes scratching and itching. The scratching and itching results in open sores. The animals loose their hair and usually die of exposure to the cold winter temperatures. Mange, like distemper, is also a slow cruel death.

Beaver populate to a point of doing excessive damage to timber, flooding roads, and contaminating sources of public drinking water.

Beaver populations take longer to build up than some other species and usually they are creating damage and removed before they reach that point.

In areas where they have reached the saturation point, beavers can literally starve to death during the cold winter months.

An interesting observation by Tom Krause was that Yellowstone National Park, where beaver are totally protected, has very few beaver. In areas surrounding Yellowstone National Park where beaver are allowed to be harvested, their populations are healthy.

An excellent observation to prove a point.

What it all boils down to is a choice.

U.S. citizens have a choice between:

A. Letting nature run it's course and watching furbearer populations build to the point of causing damage, threatening human health and safety, or harming their own populations and habitat.

Then those populations will crash from disease and starvation to a point far below the carrying capacity of the land that may take many years to recover as is the case with mange in the Dakotas.

This choice is basically either allowing these unbalanced surplus populations to die of disease and starvation and letting the fur simply rot into the soil.

B. Letting man manage the populations and allowing man to maintain more balanced and healthy populations for the benefit of the animals themselves, for the benefit of human enjoyment and recreation and for the benefit of the habitat that these species share with other wildlife species including threatened and endangered species. The fur is utilized as a beautiful, warm, biodegradable garment rather than simply left rotting into the soil.

4. Trappers care about the animals they trap and are continually looking for ways to modify traps to minimize any damage to the animal. Modern traps have been proven to minimize damage.

5. Foothold traps have been used for the protection of threatened and endangered species. Examples would be for the protection of the Aleutian Canada Goose in Alaska, and for the protection of Least Terns in sand bar nesting grounds.

6. Foothold traps have been used for the reintroduction of numerous species. River Otter and Wolf reintroduction come to mind.

7. Foothold traps have been used for many biological research studies on numerous furbearers.

8. Trappers are some of the greatest contributors to protection of wildlife habitat and protection of wildlife species.  This is extremely important to point out.

9. Because furbearers have a recreational and economic value, this value creates the incentive for their management. Without this economic and recreational value, their is little if any incentive for their protection.

And the top ten reason why we need trapping.....drum roll.....

10. It's no different than trapping mice in your house with a mouse trap. LOL!

When referring to the Animal Rights Activists, I always refer to them as the Wildlife Disease and Starvation Advocacy Groups because invariably, that is the end result for their efforts.

The Wildlife Disease and Starvation Advocacy groups criticize us for simply protecting wildlife habitat so we can harvest more animals. That may be true but without a recreational or economic value, there is little if any incentive to protect wildlife habitat.

The Sportsmen and women (which includes trappers) of this great nation were at the forefront of wildlife habitat protection and stepped up to the plate by taxing themselves through the Pittman Robertson Act to protect wildlife habitat and manage wildlife species.

That is the cornerstone of modern day wildlife management.

In contrast, Wildlife Disease and Starvation Advocacy Groups such as PETA and HSUS (who don't own dog shelters) haven't done squat in comparison. Rather, these groups have found a convenient way to prey off people's emotions for personal financial gain.

Hope this helps!

Scott H. (Wiley E)

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