A Shameful Secret Part Two

The first part of this two part article published here last week http://loprieno.bangordailynews.com/2016/09/13/home/a-shameful-secret/ /raised the following question: since trapping is barbaric, creates very little revenue, and is practiced by so few – 2535 residents of a state population of approximately 1,330,000 – one has to wonder why it has the support of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife?

One answer might be the defense of a tradition, one that goes back over many hundreds of years, minus of course the modern technology in use today. But is tradition always a good thing and should it always be blindly followed? After all, in this country, slavery was a tradition for years, along with child labor, denial of the vote to women and minorities, the 60 hour work week, and virtually no benefits to those who labored in the field or factory – all practices that were unfair and unjust, yet nonetheless supported by the full force of tradition. Each change that was proposed – from emancipation to on-the-job protection to old age security – was thought to have such catastrophic effects as to virtually cause society to collapse. Needless to say, they didn’t have the predicted effects and society did not collapse.

Another reason might be the vulnerability that other hunting methods might be subject to if trapping were banned – a variation of the old ‘slippery slope’ argument. This is not always borne out in experience. Those of us who have vehicles, for instance, are required to license and insure them (and be licensed ourselves) but that has not led to their elimination, and if it were submitted to referendum, as was the case with bears twice in the last ten years, it certainly never would.

No, the real reason might be the economic support the Department apparently feels is due to trappers who, lest we forget, comprise an incredibly small minority of the state’s population – approximately one-quarter of one per cent. Why all this concern directed to so few?

For example, consider this statement from the Department’s 2015 Research and Management Report:

“This season was a tough one for Maine trappers. With the combination of difficult weather, dramatically low fur prices, and the emergency closure during the marten/fisher season in the lynx zones, the trappers took hits from all sides. . . .With the exception of mink and grey fox, harvests [note the euphemism of ‘harvest’ instead of ‘ killing’ which more accurately describes what’s done to these animals] of or all species were lower than the previous five year averages. While there have been concerns associated with harvest declines for a number of species, this year’s harvest [again] may have been abnormally low because of the variety of pressures trappers faced this past season.”

The focus certainly seems to be on the trappers (‘tough season,’ ‘taking hits from all sides’) and not on the animals the Department is supposed to be protecting – not a word mentioned about the cruelty and prolonged suffering that the state’s wildlife are being subjected to, all in the name of profit, even though that profit is declining. See current prices here: http://trappingtoday.com/

One of the targeted animals is the beaver, as described by Beavers: Wetland and Wildlife:

 “Beavers reliably and economically maintain wetlands that sponge up floodwaters, alleviate droughts and floods (because their dams keep water on the land longer), lessen erosion, raise the water table and act as the “earth’s kidneys” to purify water. The latter occurs because several feet of silt collect upstream of older beaver dams, and toxics, such as pesticides, are broken down by microbes in the wetlands that beavers create. Thus, water downstream of dams is cleaner and requires less treatment for human use. . . Adults may weigh over 40 pounds, and beavers mate for life during their third year. Both parents care for the kits (usually one to four) that are born in the spring. The youngsters normally stay with their parents for two years, and the yearlings become babysitters for the new litter… Beavers’ ability to change the landscape is second only to humans. Dr. Donald Griffin, the father of animal cognition, has said, “When we think of the kinds of animal behavior that suggest conscious thinking, the beaver comes naturally to mind.”

This is a gentle, family-oriented creature who is beneficial to the environment, but to the trapper, it’s only a cash crop, and not much cash at that: (warning: what follows is a disturbing graphic image)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bornfreeusa/26659803620/in/album-72157668127137146/

Another animal in the cross hairs or trap is one of the most egregious examples of trophy hunting, one that we should all be ashamed to allow or tolerate. They are elegant, graceful, solitary creatures, a veritable work of nature’s art in design and pattern, and they are vital part of the wilderness, as explained by John Davis, a conservationist writing in March of this year:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobcat – media/File:Bobcat2.jpg

“Bobcats play important ecological roles in forest ecosystems. They are effective predators of rodents and rabbits, helping hold in check numbers of these and other herbivores. . . In general, persecution of carnivores is wrong, again for ecological and ethical reasons.  Carnivores generally reproduce slowly, have few natural predators, and are intelligent animals with complex social organizations.  Most parts of our country suffer from too many herbivores and too few predators.  We should be protecting, not persecuting, our remaining predators, and studying how to restore those we’ve eradicated. The once-eradicated predators of the Northeast include the Bobcat’s more boreal cousin, the Canada Lynx (Lynx canadensis), and its imperiled status is another reason why allowing the killing of Bobcats, by guns or traps, is wrong.  Bobcats and Lynx look much alike; and sport hunters or trappers can easily kill Lynx thinking they are killing Bobcat.

I hope people will value wildlife for its natural beauty and intrinsic value.  Even if some must look at wildlife and wild places through a utilitarian lens, though, protecting Bobcats makes sense.  They are worth more for wildlife watching and tracking opportunities than they are as pelts.”

Instead of protecting bobcats, however, our Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife allows them to be trapped and hunted, including with dogs, as you see by this advertisement by a Maine Guide Service:

Bobcat Hunts with Hounds

 Maine bobcat hunting is our specialty. My father started chasing bobcats with hounds in Maine back in the sixties, and is still doing it today. Maine bobcat hunting is by far the most challenging hunt offered in the state. They live in the thickest cover there is and at times the hunt can be extremely difficult, but that makes the harvest all that much more rewarding. There is nothing more beautiful than the sight of a bobcat pacing across a fresh covering of snow in the wintertime in Maine. Our hounds are as good as they come. We run them only on bobcats, with young dogs being started to keep hunt success going for years to come. We will hunt wherever the snow conditions are best during the week you have booked. Maine bobcat hunting is very dependent on snow conditions in any given location. Instead of being stuck in one location like many lodge owners, I have camps that we can hunt out of statewide. I hunt cats every day of the season, from December 1 to February 14, to ensure that the dogs are in top shape, which will ensure quality Maine bobcat hunting for you. We utilize snowmobiles, vast woods road networks and GPS collars to make the hunt as easy as possible for you, the client. Two hunters per week maximum with a $500 deposit required per hunter when booking.

 Rates: $2300 per hunter
 for a five-day hunt

It must be a pretty lucrative business, with hunters, most likely from out-of-state, paying hefty prices. It’s also cruel, inhumane, and unconscionable.

Pictures can sometimes convey this brutality far better than words, but be warned: The following link contains disturbing graphic images)

http://www.laneysguideservice.com/articles.html – video

 It’s a remarkable and troubling reversal of priorities that puts the financial gain of trappers and hunters ahead of the well-being and protection of our animals. If we reduce it to a logical premise, it would be “less participation requires more killing.” The result is a kind of welfare program for trappers and bobcat hunters, subsidized by the death of our wildlife. That may explain the Department’s latest proposal that provides a classic example of revenue trumping science.

The following notice was posted by IF&W on August 3 suggesting a rule to extend the trapping seasons for bobcats and beavers and an additional week of hunting for bobcats. A Department official confirmed that the impetus for the rule change came from “our wildlife biologists, working with the Maine Trappers Association.”

Agency: 09-137 Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

Chapter Number and Title: Chapter 4.01 (G. 1, 1.b., 4.) (O.) – Upland Game and Furbearing Animals

“Brief Summary: The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is proposing to adopt amendments to furbearer season dates and the open and closed areas for beaver trapping. In WMDs [Wildlife Management Districts] 15, 16, 20-26 and 29 the Department is proposing to open the beaver trapping season on October 30 to align the start of the season with other furbearer seasons and provide an additional 2 weeks of opportunity. An additional week of bobcat hunting is also being proposed with a season of December 1 – February 21 each year. The Department is also proposing to collect improved biological data from some species. A tooth submission for bobcat, fisher, marten and otter would be required when presenting the animal for registration. A complete copy of the proposed rule can be obtained from the rulemaking contact person listed below.

Public hearing: NONE SCHEDULED”

 What sounds very much like a private meeting (no public attended nor was a public hearing scheduled) occurred between DIFW biologists and the Maine Trapper’s Association, who, to no one’s surprise, would like a longer trapping season because the price of furs is historically low and profits are dropping – all this at a time when DIFW freely admits in its 2015 Research and Management Report that the number of bobcat trapped and hunted “declined from a high of 410, during the 07-08 season, to a new low of 111 bobcats this past season . How much of this decline in the annual harvest [i.e. Kill] rate can be attributed to an actual decline in the bobcat population or changes in trapping/hunting effort is still an unanswered question.”

[In other words, they have no scientific data, and even though fewer bobcats were taken, they still want to extend the season to benefit hunters and trappers.]

And if their motivation to kill more animals is not clear enough, DIFW published the following statement:

“PRINCIPAL REASON(S) OR PURPOSE FOR PROPOSING THIS RULE:

The Department regularly adjusts furbearer hunting and trapping regulations in response to emerging scientific information, changes in trapper participation, and biological data collection. In 2015 the trapping regulations for several species were altered in order to reduce the chance of accidentally capturing lynx, which are listed as a threatened species by the federal government. Unfortunately, these changes resulted in reduced trapper participation, and have made it more difficult for the Department to collect quality biological data on some species. Low fur prices have also contributed to several years of low harvest for some species, especially beaver. Therefore, we are proposing several adjustments to current furbearer trapping and hunting seasons in an effort to allow more opportunity for hunters and trappers to pursue some species. Following consultation with the Maine Trapper’s Association, we are also proposing to collect improved biological data [ teeth extracted from dead animals] from some species in order to support science-based management decisions in the future. Finally, we are proposing to close certain areas to beaver trapping, in response to requests from private landowners.”

Again, it’s clear that the DIFW’s primary mission is to protect the financial interests of trappers and hunters instead of safeguarding and protecting the public resource that is Maine’s wildlife.

What can we do about this travesty? Thanks to the efforts of a few individuals, it was learned that if five citizens requested a public hearing on proposed rules like this one, that request would be granted.

Consequently, a public hearing has NOW been scheduled for MONDAY SEPTEMBER 26, 2016 at 6:00 pm – at the RAMADA PLAZA PORTLAND YORK ROOM 155 RIVERSIDE STREET, PORTLAND MAINE 

This is a chance to make your voice heard and oppose the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s plan to extend the trapping season for beavers and the hunting/hounding season for bobcats. 

You can also submit a comment until October 6 by letter, e-mail or phone to Becky Orff, Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, 284 State Street 41 SHS, Augusta, ME 04333; phone: 207-287-5202; fax: 207-287-6395; e-mail: Becky.Orff@maine.gov

Beavers and bobcats as well as other animals of the state deserve to live as much as we do, and if they have to be killed for food, it should be done quickly and humanely. No living creature deserves to suffer in a trap, executed at point blank range and then be skinned for its pelt or a trophy, just as no animal should be pursued to its death by a pack of GPS- collared hounds who drive it up a tree where it can be shot or tear it apart and be severely injured themselves.   This is all from the Dark Ages when savagery was rampant and brutality was commonplace. It does not belong in the 21st  century.

Ultimately, after all these barbaric practices have been revealed, we have to ask “what kind of people can treat animals so cruelly?”   But then we also have to ask “what kind of people are we?”  Do we do nothing, or do we work to stop the violence?

 

For more perspectives about Maine’s wildlife and other related matters, tune into a new radio program Into The Wilderness broadcast Tuesday evenings from 8-8:30 on WMPG FM 90.9.

http://www.wmpg.org

Don Loprieno

About Don Loprieno

Don Loprieno is a student of history and a published author.