President — Dan Wagner; 207-323-0331
Vice President — Dave Wilson, 76 Drummond Rd., Sidney, ME 04330; 207-458-0590
Secretary — Pat Favolise, 115 Farnsworth Rd., Columbia, ME 04623; 207-483-4779
Treasurer — Linda Bridges, 93 Arundel Rd., Kennebunkport, ME 04606; 207-967-4237
Editor — Gary Sewell, 262 Lake Rd., Monticello, ME 04760; 207-538-0945
Membership Director — Ted Perkins, 1826 Hudson Rd., Hudson, ME 04449; 207-947-5109
Legislative Liaison — Norm (Skip) Trask, P.O. Box 265, Readfield, ME 04365; 207-685-4643
NTA Director — Brian Cogill, 416 Moulton Hill Rd., Parsonsfield, ME 04047; 207-793-4605
• Regular with Trapper & Predator Caller subscription — $31
• Supporting with Trapper & Predator Caller subscription — $36
• Junior (under 16 years) with subscription to Trapper & Predator Caller — $16
• Family (up to 2 adults and all children under 18 yrs.) with subscription to Trapper & Predator Caller — $34
• Regular lifetime (under age 65) — $235
Plus $11 per year for subscription to Trapper & Predator Caller
• Senior lifetime (65 yrs. and older) — $110
Plus $11 per year for subscription to Trapper & Predator Caller
Complete membership application on first page of association section and send dues to:
MTA Membership Director
1826 Hudson Rd., Hudson, ME 04449
LEGISLATIVE LIASON’S REPORT
Will Issuance of an ITP Adversely Affect Trappers?
As I sit at my desk in mid-March writing this report, it’s been a little over six weeks since I submitted comments to the USFWS on behalf of the MTA regarding the State’s application for an ITP for lynx. The comments I prepared included an introduction containing, among other things, the following two paragraphs. As trappers, you can quickly and easily relate to the message I was trying to convey. You get it! USFWS officials, on the other hand, often get so caught up in their jobs of trying to do what’s good for wildlife that, in my opinion, they overlook the fact that their decisions can have a tremendous negative impact on the lives and lifestyles of everyday people. I like to remind them of that every chance I get.
“Most of our members have never seen a lynx in the wild. Almost none of them have ever trapped a lynx by accident. Yet, the listing of lynx as a threatened species has had a profound impact on just about every one of them. Those who trap in Wildlife Management Districts (WMDs) inhabited by these cats are always concerned that a lynx might get into one of their traps, and they take precautions to prevent that from happening. Trappers in other parts of the State are aware that lynx in Maine are expanding their range further south, and they continually wonder if and when some of these animals will migrate into areas where they trap. As a result of lynx migrations, Maine’s Fish and Wildlife Department recently added three more WMDs to the long list of areas where trappers are required to take special precautions to avoid catching lynx accidentally.”
“As a rule, our members are not wealthy, but they share a love and appreciation of the outdoors that, to them, is priceless. Their connection to the land is so strong that it influences much of what they do, how and where they live, how they raise their kids, how they earn a living and what they do for enjoyment. Trapping is an essential component of the life-style upon which their health and happiness depends. Seldom does a week pass that they are not involved in some activity related to trapping. They take very seriously any threat to the future of trapping, and, right now, the upcoming decision by the USFWS regarding the ITP has them very concerned. Whether those concerns are justified remains to be seen.”
Trappers and Antis Submit Comments
on Maine’s ITP Application
The deadline for submitting written comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service) on Maine’s application for an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) was February 7th. Trappers throughout Maine and across the nation submitted comments. The MTA wishes to thank every one of you that took time out of your busy schedules to make sure that trappers were heard. Anti-trappers and protectionists also responded. As expected, those expressing opposition to issuance of an ITP outnumbered, by a wide margin, those of us who submitted supporting comments. The good news is that the majority of those who expressed opposition did so by attaching their signature to a form letter, a tactic the animal fanatics have used successfully for years to get “bleeding hearts” to support their anti-trapping agenda. Having these form letters sent via email to the members of every animal protection organization in North America all but guarantees a sizeable (although largely meaningless) response. It completely eliminates the need for the recipient to understand the issue or know any of the facts. It’s simply a matter of attaching your name and address to the document, as if it were your own, and forwarding it to the USFWS.
The Service received a total of approximately 6,400 comments regarding the ITP. The vast majority consisted of some type of form letter. Fewer than 150 consisted of what the Service considers “unique” comments. Those “unique” comments will require further review and responses by USFWS officials before they will be ready to make a final decision on the granting of an ITP. That means the decision is at least several months away, raising the possibility that we will enter yet another trapping season without the protection of an ITP.
Federal Official Optimistic That ITP Will Be Granted
The Feds have never issued an ITP for trapping. However, a USFWS biologist who works out of their Orono office and is playing a major role in the decision making process, has expressed optimism that Maine will eventually get the permit. Dr. Mark McCollough, recently interviewed by George Smith for an article in George’s Outdoor News, said that he expects Maine will be granted an ITP for lynx, but he is still unsure as to what trapping restrictions will be attached. During the interview Dr. McCollough also acknowledged that he’s already thinking about what a judge would decide if the ITP is issued and then challenged in court.
In my opinion, a court challenge to the issuance of an ITP under the terms and conditions requested by the State in their application is almost a certainty. That does not mean, however, that the Feds should impose additional unnecessary restrictions in an attempt to pacify the protectionists and avoid such a lawsuit. In the ITP related comments that I submitted to the Feds on behalf of the MTA, I urged the USFWS to “look beyond emotional arguments, unsubstantiated information, personal bias, suspicion and speculation and make your decision on the basis of fact and credible evidence”. If they do that, we’ll be okay. If they try to play games in hopes of avoiding another protectionist driven lawsuit, we’ll be saddled with additional trapping restrictions, and it will likely be the MTA that forces a review of their actions in a federal courthouse.
MTA Comments Regarding ITP Were Certainly “Unique”
When I first started preparing MTA’s comments to the Feds regarding the ITP, my goal was to give a brief introduction, a little background information, a statement of support for the State’s ITP application (as written) and an item by item objection to the various alternative restrictions considered by the Service in their Environmental Assessment. I had hoped to keep the comments to 4 or 5 pages. My first draft was about 8 pages! I forwarded the document to USSA attorney Jim Lister in Washington D.C., for his review, hoping he could help me “whittle it down” a bit. Jim returned my comments with only a few suggestions for minor edits along with a list of other things I might want to add! My final version was 10 pages long, but I felt pretty good about it. It said what I believe the MTA needed to say, including criticism of the Environmental Assessment and the manner in which the Service has handled the entire lynx thing from the very beginning.
Let me add here that I cannot say enough good things about the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance and their attorney Jim Lister. You all know what an outstanding job they did for us during both lynx related lawsuits. Even now, whenever I’m looking for legal advice on behalf of the MTA, Jim is always willing to provide whatever we need at no cost to us. The time and money that the USSA and Attorney Lister have invested to help the MTA protect our trapping heritage has been nothing short of phenomenal. I’d encourage you to send the USSA a donation whenever you can afford it.
Alternative Actions Considered by USFWS
Unnecessary and Unreasonable
Ever since lynx were listed as a threatened species in March of 2000, various animal activist groups have used the listing to try to restrict trapping in Maine. Their success has been limited. The alternative actions listed by the USFWS in their Environmental Assessment (EA) would also, if implemented, further restrict trapping. Some of the alternative restrictions the Service has considered are nearly identical to those the animal activists have tried unsuccessfully to bring about through the federal court system. I hope that the inclusion of those alternatives in the EA is strictly a coincidence and not the result of lobbying efforts by the same protectionist groups who filed the second lynx related lawsuit.
The MTA feels very strongly that the only trapping restrictions and/or requirements included as part of the ITP should be those to which the State has already agreed in their application. Those restrictions are very similar to what’s in place right now, with the exception of jaw-spread restrictions on foothold traps (which would be eliminated) and the use of body grippers on the ground in lynx exclusion devices (which would be allowed). We are adamantly opposed to any additional restrictions and/or requirements, including (but not limited to) those listed for consideration by the USFWS in their Environmental Assessment.
Here’s a list of the most unacceptable restrictions/requirements being considered by the Service along with the comments we submitted in opposition to each of them:
(1) Require lynx exclusion devices for all conibear traps at upland trap sites in Wildlife Management Districts (WMDs) 1 through 11 and 14, 18 and 19 and rescind the leaning pole regulations. (Alternative C.3)
Comment – “Last year the State of Maine relaxed its general prohibition on using conibears at baited sets on the ground in three WMDs containing lynx provided that each trap is enclosed in a lynx exclusion device. As a result, conibear traps (protected by exclusion devices) can now be used on the ground at sets where they were previously prohibited. The MTA supports the mandatory use of lynx exclusion devices under those circumstances only. We are adamantly opposed to mandatory use of these devices where they are not needed, and the evidence clearly shows that these costly and cumbersome devices are not needed at “blind” sets or when conibear traps are set on trees or leaning poles in compliance with existing rules. We are perplexed by continued incorrect implications by USFWS officials in Maine that the current “leaning pole” rules are inadequate because lynx have been known to climb trees less than 4 inches in diameter and growing at an angle greater than 45 degrees. With only minor adjustments to better protect lynx, these “leaning pole” rules have been in place since 2007. In the past two years alone, based on records maintained by the Maine F&W Department, the number of conibear trap nights at “leaning pole” sets in lynx habitat has exceeded four hundred thousand. That translates to more than one million conibear trap nights at “leaning pole” sets in lynx habitat since these rules have been in effect, and there is no evidence that a lynx has ever been caught in a conibear at a “leaning pole” set that would satisfy the rules currently in place for these types of sets. The chances of lynx being taken accidently at legally constructed “leaning pole” sets are so remote that the Service’s ongoing concerns are unjustified. At the end of the second lynx related Maine lawsuit, a federal judge, after thoroughly reviewing all the evidence, found it unlikely that lynx would be taken in conibear traps under the rules that are currently in place – rules that do not require lynx exclusion devices. These same rules would remain in place under Option B (the plan proposed by the State in their application).”
(2) Require the use of foothold traps that meet BMP standards for fox, coyote and bobcat and rescind the existing jaw-spread limitations. (Alternatives C.4 and D.6)
Comment – “When Maine participated in BMP testing of foothold traps several years ago, the MTA was assured by the Maine F&W Department that BMP standards would never be made mandatory here. Furthermore, there is no evidence that lynx would benefit from mandating the use of traps that meet BMP standards for fox, bobcat and coyote. The State did not include a jaw-spread restriction in their application for the ITP, because there is insufficient evidence to show that smaller jaw-spread reduces the number of incidental catches or reduces the risk of injury in the few instances each year that lynx are taken incidentally in footholds. There is some evidence to suggest that larger traps may be less likely to cause damage to lynx, because the animal is restrained by the entire foot rather than one or two toes. Regardless of trap size, lynx seldom make much effort to escape from a trap and, based on the records of incidental catches by Maine trappers as well as intentional trapping of lynx by researchers, there is overwhelming evidence that lynx can almost always be released from foothold traps with little, if any, injury.”
(3) Prohibit the use of drags on foothold traps in WMDs 1 through 11 and 14, 18 and 19 and require that they be anchored with chains not more than 9 ½ inches long with at least 2 swivel points. (Alternative C.5)
Comment – “The MTA is strongly opposed to a prohibition on the use of drags. The best locations for fox and coyote sets are along roads and trails associated with timber harvesting activities. These are the same trails used by grouse, deer and moose hunters operating 4-wheel drives and ATVs. Staking the trap solid at the edge of the trail makes it likely that a trapped animal will be spotted by a hunter before the trapper arrives, resulting in trapped animals being shot and damaged or stolen (along with the trap). The use of drags provides the opportunity for the animal to move away from the trail and hide. Lynx don’t usually try very hard to escape from a trap, and there is little evidence to suggest that a short chain, staked solid, and leaving the animal open to view is better than a longer chain with a drag that allows the animal to reach cover and hide. There was one incident referenced in the EA where a Maine lynx suffered a broken leg while caught in a trap attached to a drag. What was not stated in the EA is that this particular lynx did not become injured until a team of wildlife officials arrived at the scene and attempted to photograph the animal. Hindsight is twenty/twenty, but if wildlife officials had approached this animal differently, this injury might have been avoided. Wildlife officials, as noted in the EA, also had a lynx break a leg when caught in a trap set for research purposes. In that incident, the trap was staked solid (the injury resulted from equipment failure). On the issue of stake versus drag, the evidence is inconclusive as to which is better as far as lynx are concerned, but we believe that the potential harm to a trapped lynx would be greater if the animal were staked solid where anyone passing by would see it.”
(4) Require periodic retraining of all licensed trappers. (Alternative D.1)
Comment – “The MTA feels very strongly that such a requirement would do little, if anything, to better protect lynx and would be a waste of time, money and manpower. All newly licensed trappers are currently receiving this training as part of Maine’s mandatory trapper education program. Many who already hold trapping licenses do not trap in areas that contain lynx. Most trappers that set traps in areas containing lynx are continually worried about the possibility of catching a lynx. They take all reasonable precautions to avoid lynx, and they have been successful. We see little benefit in requiring these trappers to be “retrained” to do what they’ve been doing successfully for more than a decade.”
(5) Limit the use of conibear traps at upland trap sites to size #120 or smaller in WMDs 1 through 11 and 14, 18 and 19. (Alternative D.4)
Comment – “It appears that the only justification for some of the alternative actions considered by the Service to better protect lynx involves evidence resulting from incidental catches that took place prior to the time the current conibear rules were adopted. This particular alternative falls into that category. Under the previous rules, just as many lynx were taken incidentally in size #110 or #120 conibears as in the larger sizes (#160 and #220), but what took place back then is no longer relevant. With the current conibear rules in place, this alternative would do nothing to better protect lynx, but it would impose an unreasonable and unnecessary hardship on fisher trappers. Although fisher can be taken in #120 conibears, these smaller traps are not as effective for taking male fisher as the larger sizes and are certainly not the trap of choice for most serious fisher trappers. Many fisher trappers have already invested thousands of dollars in the larger sized traps (#160 and #220). Under this alternative, they would no longer be able to use the traps they currently own and would be required to purchase new traps, at significant expense, if they wished to continue trapping for fisher with conibears.
There is no justification for the USFWS to give this alternative further consideration because there is no evidence that a lynx has ever been taken in a conibear trap that was set in a manner that satisfies the conibear rules that are currently in place and would remain in place under Option B (the plan proposed by the State in their application).”
(6) Require daily tending of all conibear traps at upland trap sites in WMDs 1 through 11 and 14, 18 and 19. (Alternative D.5)
Comment – “The MTA is strongly opposed to a shorter tending requirement for conibear traps, the preferred trap of most fisher and marten trappers. Fisher and marten hunt for food over large areas, and, as a result, the number of trap nights required to catch one of these furbearers is substantial. The reason that serious fisher and marten trappers rely on conibears on their long lines through remote areas is because they are only required to check them every fifth day. Requiring these trappers to check their conibears on a daily basis would mean they’d be driving over their lines15 times compared to 3 times under current law. Burning 5 times as much gasoline over the same period of time would make this type of trapping cost-prohibitive and would put most fisher and marten trappers out of business. Even without gasoline considerations, most men and women who supplement their income by trapping fisher and marten also have other jobs that would prevent them from tending their conibears on a daily basis. By manipulating their work week, they are currently able to check their traps at least every 5 days. A daily tending requirement would force many of them to stop trapping altogether.
The reduction in trapping pressure resulting from a daily tending requirement would reduce the fisher harvest dramatically in WMDs 1 through 11 and 14, 18 and 19. This reduction in fisher harvest would almost certainly be detrimental to lynx. One of the most common documented causes of lynx mortality in Maine is from predation by fisher. During the most recent lynx related Maine lawsuit, compelling testimony from expert witnesses indicated that an increase in the number of fisher on the ground heading into winter would increase the likelihood of additional lynx mortalities. An increased number of fisher roaming the woods during the winter months would almost certainly place lynx at greater risk than by leaving the conibear tending rules, and resulting fisher harvest, as they are now.
Tending rules involving conibear traps should not even be an issue, however, because there is no evidence that a lynx has ever been taken in a conibear trap that was set in a manner that satisfies the current rules.”
(7) Require pan-tension devices on foothold traps at upland trap sites in WMDs 1 through 11 and 14, 18 and 19. (Alternative D.7)
Comment – “The MTA is strongly opposed to a restriction requiring pan-tension devices on foothold traps. In order for such a restriction to be effective in avoiding incidental lynx catches, the pan would need to be tightened to the point that it would exclude just about all other upland furbearers as well. Pan tension sufficient to keep mature lynx from springing a trap would eliminate the option of using foothold traps at upland locations for fisher, marten, mink, raccoon, weasel, bobcat and most young of the year coyotes. The results of this alternative would be almost identical to a complete ban on the use of foothold traps for upland trapping. It would be the end of fox and coyote trapping, because the foothold is the only trap currently legal in Maine that is effective in taking these two species. This would not only impose a severe hardship on trappers who target fox and coyote to supplement their annual income but also trappers who rely heavily on the use of footholds to trap for other upland species. Furthermore, this alternative would have a significant negative impact on the State’s ability to effectively manage wildlife in nearly half the State of Maine. There is also evidence to suggest that any significant reduction in the fox and coyote harvest in October, November and December could adversely impact lynx in the months to follow by increasing competition for snowshoe hare and other food sources that lynx rely on to get through the tough Maine winters.”
(8) Limit the use of foothold traps at upland trap sites to the months of October and November. (Alternative D.8)
Comment – “We are confused as to the intent of this alternative. In your Summary of Alternative Actions Table (page 22 of the EA), you state that this alternative would “Limit upland foothold trapping season to October and November”. Copies of that table were distributed at the three informational meetings you held in Maine last December, and, as a result, that’s the information that most trappers have seen. Buried within the 150 page EA document (page 50), however, this same alternative (D.8) would “Limit upland trapping season to October and November to prevent freezing injury”. So regardless of what it says in the chart, it appears that this alternative would actually end all upland trapping at the end of November. This mistake, one of several we noticed in the EA, is quite significant. There are trappers in northern Maine who wait until December to run a fisher and marten line, tending their traps by snowmobile, dog sled or (to a lesser extent) on foot with snowshoes. They use conibear traps exclusively. Based on the copy of the “Summary” table they received, they would have no idea that alternative D.8 would bring an end to the enjoyment and income they derive from their semi-wilderness winter trap-lines.
Regardless of the intent of this alternative, the MTA is strongly opposed to it. Whether December trapping involves footholds or conibears, the facts speak for themselves. Approximately two-thirds of the lynx that have been trapped incidentally in foothold traps have been taken in October. The rest, with one exception, have been taken in November. Over the past 12 years, more than 50 lynx have been taken incidentally in foothold traps, and only one of those catches took place in December. Almost all of those animals were released with little, if any, injury. Further, there is no evidence that a lynx has ever been taken in a conibear trap that was set in a manner that satisfies the conibear rules that are currently in place and would remain in place under Option B (the plan proposed by the State in their application).
There is no evidence that a ban on upland trapping during the month of December would benefit lynx, and we are deeply disturbed that you would even consider cutting the length of our trapping season on most species by nearly fifty percent. Any such extreme measure would make it necessary for the MTA to seek judicial review.”
(9) Prohibit upland trapping in WMDs 1 through 11 and 14, 18 and 19. (Alternative E.1)
Comment – “We doubt that this alternative (Alternative E) is really an option. Although no ITP would be issued, you have assumed that the Maine Fish and Wildlife Department would voluntarily ban all upland trapping in areas frequented by lynx. Obviously, that will never happen. The second lynx related lawsuit could have immediately been resolved if the Fish and Wildlife Department had been inclined to ban upland trapping in WMDs containing lynx. Instead, they opted for a long and costly trial rather than agree to any additional trapping restrictions in those areas. The MTA has firsthand knowledge about that decision, because we, as interveners, were co-defendants with the Department in that lawsuit. At the conclusion of that trial, the federal Court found that it was not likely that lynx would be taken in conibear traps under the rules that are currently in place. The Court also found that any injuries to lynx from being taken incidentally in foothold traps did not constitute irreparable harm and did not pose a threat to the Maine lynx population. Those findings were later upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals.
We understand that the Executive and Judicial branches of government are separate entities and are not always in agreement. It would seem, however, that a ruling by the Court that the incidental take of lynx by Maine trappers does not warrant a closure of the trapping season, would be sufficient to convince the USFWS that Alternative E is neither necessary nor reasonable. The only way Alternative E would occur is if the USFWS were to force this action upon the State, and we are confident that you have no such intention. Any such extreme measure, however, would make it necessary for the MTA to seek judicial review.”
Issuance of ITP Long Overdue
Issuance of an ITP will correct a serious mistake made by the USFWS twelve years ago when they failed to follow through on their promise to address the incidental take of lynx resulting from otherwise lawful trapping. Only a small number of lynx are trapped incidentally each year. Most are released with little, if any, injury. The USFWS (in its 2000 Canada lynx listing rule) has already concluded that these incidental catches pose no threat to the lynx population. Even so, these incidental catches constitute a “taking” under the federal ESA and are therefore considered an illegal act. An ITP will legitimize these incidental catches and protect the Maine Fish and Wildlife Department, as well as individual trappers, from liability under the federal Endangered Species Act when these incidental “takes” occur.
To qualify for the ITP, the Maine F&W Department must show that they have taken steps to minimize the potential for incidental lynx catches to take place. That has been done. The Department has done an exemplary job in adopting rules and implementing other measures to ensure that lynx are protected. They have already agreed to keep restrictions in place to ensure that the incidental take of lynx in traps remains small and within acceptable limits. As a result, I am optimistic that the USFWS, after completing their review, will issue the ITP as requested by the State in their application. However, as we explained to the Service in the comments we submitted, “If the USFWS is unable or unwilling to issue the ITP under those terms and conditions, the MTA strongly favors leaving things as they are now. Although our members want and need the protection that an ITP would provide, we would rather continue trapping without that protection, and live with the potential consequences, than be forced to comply with additional trapping restrictions that we know are unnecessary.”
See you at the Spring Meeting on May 6th!!! — Skip Trask