Maine Trappers Association June-July 2010 Report

President — Dana Johnson Sr., 115 Thompson St., Wells, ME 04090; phone: 207-646-5467

Vice President
— Dave Wilson, 76 Drummond Rd., Sidney, ME 04330; phone: 207-458-0590

Secretary
— Pat Favolise, 115 Farnsworth Rd., Columbia, ME 04623; phone: 207-483-4779

Treasurer
— Linda Bridges, 93 Arundel Rd., Kennebunkport, ME 04606; phone: 207-967-4237

Editor
— Gary Sewell, 262 Lake Rd., Monticello, ME 04760; phone: 207-538-0945

Membership Director
— Ted Perkins, 1826 Hudson Rd., Hudson, ME 04449; phone: 207-947-5109

Legislative Liaison
— Norm (Skip) Trask, P.O. Box 265, Readfield, ME 04365; phone: 207-685-4643

NTA Director
— Brian Cogill, 416 Moulton Hill Rd., Parsonsfield, ME 04047; phone: 207-793-4605

Membership Options:
• Regular with The Trapper & Predator Caller subscription — $31
• Supporting with The Trapper & Predator Caller subscription — $36
• Junior (under 16 years) with subscription to The Trapper & Predator Caller — $16
• Family (up to 2 adults and all children under 18 yrs.) with subscription to The Trapper & Predator Caller — $34
• Regular lifetime (under age 65) — $235
Plus $11 per year for subscription to The Trapper & Predator Caller
• Senior lifetime (65 yrs. and older) — $110
Plus $11 per year for subscription to The Trapper & Predator Caller

Complete membership application on first page of
association section and send dues to:
MTA Membership Director
Ted Perkins
1826 Hudson Rd., Hudson, ME 04449

LEGISLATIVE LIAISON’S REPORT
Saint Patrick’s Day finds me sitting at my computer working diligently to get my report completed before the March 20 deadline. Spring is in the air, and I’d much rather be outside cutting wood or in the fur shed getting the last of my fall ‘rat pelts on the boards. Looking out over Cobbossee Lake, I can see large areas of open water. A strong wind will remove the remainder of the winter ice within hours.

The lake will be ice free about a month earlier than usual. Most streams are already free of ice, and I was thinking about setting out a few floats and catching some of those heavily furred spring muskrats. Unfortunately, I recently learned that we somehow lost the use of footholds for taking ‘rats after the end of the regular trapping season.

Other trappers are also beginning to find out that the footholds they set on platforms under the ice in January and February were illegal. I’m starting to get lots of calls. Trappers are wondering how this could have happened without anyone knowing about it.

My copy of the current law book here on my desk clearly states that after the end of the general trapping season I am allowed to continue to trap for muskrats in any area of the state that is open to beaver trapping (Section 12 of the trapping rules). It also says (Section 18, subsection H) that muskrat trapping in areas open to beaver trapping is restricted to the underwater use of killer-type traps and colony traps after March 31st. That indicates to me that, as in past years, I’m allowed to use footholds for ‘rats until April. The old language, which was adopted several years, reads as follows:
“After the close of the Regular Statewide Trapping Season (#2 below), muskrats may still be trapped but only until March 31, and only in areas that are open to beaver trapping.

After March 31st muskrats may be trapped only with the use of killer-type traps and colony traps, and all traps must be set so as to remain completely under water at all times. In addition, in any township of the State that is open to beaver trapping, any mink or otter taken in a beaver or muskrat set, so- called, may be lawfully possessed by any licensed trapper.” In 2008, an amended version of this same language was filed with the Secretary of State. The amendment only changed one word and allows trappers to legally possess mink taken incidental to beaver trapping – a change adopted by the Department at the request of the MTA.

This year, with no notification to trappers, the old language was replaced with new language and was filed with the Secretary of State on October 15, 2009, as part of the beaver trapping rules. Here’s the new language:
“After the close of the Regular Trapping Season (paragraph 2 below), muskrats may still be trapped in those Wildlife Management Districts open to beaver trapping, using killer-type traps or colony traps.”
As you can see for yourself, the language previously in effect was poorly written and needed to be cleaned up.

Unfortunately, the new wording did a lot more than just make clarifications, it changed the meaning completely. As a result, we lost the under-ice use of footholds for muskrats for the entire winter (January, February and March). When this was brought to my attention by MTA member John Sewell from Washington County, I immediately contacted Mark Stadler, Director of Wildlife at the Department, to find out what had happened. After a little research, Mark got back to me to explain that, as I had suspected, the language that was adopted was not what was intended.

It was a mistake, pure and simple. Mark was extremely apologetic – he wanted to be sure I conveyed to trappers that it was not his intent to “screw things up for us.” He also promised that prior to another trapping season the old language will be put back in place. Between now and then we’ll also be trying to convince the Department to allow the use of footholds for muskrats on covered floats after the end of March in areas that are open to beaver trapping.

Lawsuit Appellants File Opening Brief With US Court Of Appeals

As I reported in the last newsletter (December 09), the plaintiffs in the lynx lawsuit appealed Judge Woodcock’s decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston. The Court of Appeals consists of a panel of judges that has appellate jurisdiction over the lower courts, meaning that it has the power to review decisions and change outcomes.

The plaintiffs/appellants have hired a new law firm to handle their appeal. They will now be represented by Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal with offices in Washington DC. On February 22nd, they filed their opening brief with the Court of Appeals. This “brief” contains 127 pages, although much of it consists of photocopies of material from the trial in Bangor last summer and from the Federal Register. We (the interveners) are still working on our response and will be filing it before the end of the month (March).

The time-table for a hearing on this appeal is still up in the air. Our attorneys are telling us that it is unlikely anything more will happen until sometime this fall at the earliest. One thing that could change the picture dramatically is for the Feds to issue the State of Maine an Incidental Take Permit for lynx. If that were to happen, the plaintiff’s argument that the State is violating the federal Endangered Species Act (by allowing trapping practices that result in the incidental taking of lynx) would no longer be valid, and the appeal would likely be thrown out – case closed.

ITP Application Moving Ahead Ever So Slowly
What are the chances that the State will receive an ITP for lynx anytime soon? The good news is that the Feds appear about ready to publish in the Federal Register their intent to issue an ITP to the State of Maine. That may happen as soon as sometime in May. That posting will be followed by a public comment period, consisting of probably 90 days, when just about everyone in the country will have the opportunity to support or challenge the issuance of this document.

The bad news is that the proposed ITP is rumored to contain 150 pages, give or take. If that is true, attorneys for every protectionist organization out there are certain to find lots of issues to challenge. I cannot imagine why an ITP for lynx in Maine would require more documentation than the listing of lynx as a threatened species in the lower forty-eight states. I hope the rumors are false and that the Feds are not planning to use the ITP to micro-manage our furbearer harvesting methods. Whatever it contains, when the ITP finally appears in the Federal Register we’ll get our first real chance to go through it in detail. Then we’ll decide how to respond. We’ll then be contacting all MTA members, describing the trapping restrictions that are included in the proposed permit and explaining when and how to submit comments to the Feds. When that time comes, every trapper needs to participate.

Governor’s Merger Attempt Shot Down Again
In early January I represented the MTA at a legislative hearing held by the Appropriations Committee to consider Part DDD of the Governor’s Supplemental Budget. This section of the budget was the third attempt in three years by the Governor to consolidate the natural resource agencies into one super agency. For the third year in a row, there was no public support for combining these agencies, which begs the question of why this Administration has barged ahead relentlessly in pursuit of a merger that nobody wants.

Anyway, that’s strike three, and the current Administration won’t get to the plate again with their misguided proposal. Let’s hope that the next Governor and his or her top advisors will understand the value of maintaining the small, unique natural resource agencies that oversee and protect the various outdoor interests of Maine people.

Green Party Candidate First Casualty In Run For Governor

How many candidates are competing for the chance to replace Governor Baldacci? I’ve used all my fingers and toes and still haven’t counted all of them. It’s safe to say that somewhere around two dozen candidates have thrown their hats into the ring. Some of them will soon drop out when it becomes obvious that they can’t raise enough money to run a viable campaign.

In fact, some have already fallen by the wayside. The first casualty was Green Party candidate Lynne Williams, an attorney from Bar Harbor. Some of our members met her last summer at the federal courthouse in Bangor. Ms. Williams was one of two attorneys that represented the animal activists in their bid to take away our trapping privileges.

She was forced out of the race for Governor because she was unable to get 2,000 signatures from Green Party members by the March 15 deadline. I’m sure that MTA members could care less whether Ms. Williams is on the ballot or not, but I found it somewhat encouraging that WAM and their membership couldn’t muster up enough support to get her there.

Next Governor A Key to The Future Of Traditional Outdoor Activities
I don’t usually dwell on political issues in my newsletter reports. However, the upcoming elections (June and November) will, in my opinion, play a critical role in determining the future of traditional outdoor activities in the State of Maine. I’m talking about such things as trapping, hunting and traditional types of guiding. Anyone who has been paying close attention has seen the current Admistration walking hand in hand with environmental activists down the road to protectionism.

They have supported the creation of eco-reserves on publicly owned lands – large areas where the use of motorized transportation would be denied and consumptive use of wildlife would be prohibited. They traded away prime parcels of state owned land (public lots) in exchange for an addition to Baxter State Park. Those public lots were open to hunting and trapping. Most of the Baxter parcel is not.

They have championed the idea that government should decide what types of outdoor recreation are allowed on privately owned land. This Administration, more than any other that I can remember, is out of touch with our rural population – ask folks in rural communities across the state how they feel about school consolidation. In a nutshell, the “Maine” that appeals to most rural folks cannot stand another four years of the same policies that have been promoted in Augusta during the past eight.

If we are going to start to regain the ground we’ve lost, we need to search out and elect a candidate that fully understands and appreciates the gigantic economic impact associated with traditional fish and wildlife related recreation. Every sportsman and sportswoman needs to be paying attention to who is running for Governor. We need to find out how each candidate feels about things that are important to us and our families. Whether Republican, Democrat or Independent, we need to find a candidate with a vision for Maine that includes lots of room for our way of life, and we need to do everything within our power to get him or her elected. Whoever moves into the Blaine House next January will determine whether we change course and head in a better direction or continue down the road to more government control and protectionism.

Outcome Of ATV Bill Will Impact Trappers
The public hearing on a controversial ATV bill drew overwhelming support from just about every member of the Natural Resources Network – from farmers to forest landowners and from blue berry growers to guides. I testified in support of the bill on behalf of the MTA. No one testified against the bill, although the ACLU eventually submitted a letter of opposition because they believe the bill infringes on the rights of ATV users. The bill would allow wardens to stop an ATV being operated on privately owned lands without “reasonable and articulable” suspicion to believe that a violation of law has taken place.

Prior to last year, state law allowed “routine” stops of ATVs to check registrations and make sure that the machine and operator were in compliance with all regulations governing the operation of these machines, including the landowner permission requirement. Last session, while the Maine Supreme Court was reviewing the constitutionality of these “routine” ATV stops, the Maine Legislature passed a law saying that wardens could no longer stop ATVs unless they had reason to suspect that a violation had occurred. The Supreme Court later upheld (as constitutional) the “routine” stops allowed under the old law. The Legislature, however, had already enacted tougher standards, and those new standards make it virtually impossible to enforce the landowner permission requirement.

When landowners found out that wardens could no longer stop an ATV being operated on their property to determine if the required permission had been granted, many of them were outraged and threatened to post their property. Representative Ralph Sarty, working with SWOAM, the Forest Products Council and individual landowners, submitted LD # 1536 in an attempt to resolve the landowner relations problems that this new law has created. In spite of overwhelming support at the hearing, the bill was voted out of Committee with only a 7 to 6 “ought to pass” report. The debate on the bill has become very contentious, and the fate of the bill is far from settled. Depending on the outcome, ATV users may see a big decline in the amount of land available for them to ride. The impact on trappers could also be substantial. If this issue doesn’t get resolved, the signs that land owners start nailing up will simply say “No Trespassing”, and we’ll all pay the price. The MTA will continue to work with landowners in an effort to get this bill enacted.

Permission Requirement Continues To Confuse Trappers/Wardens
In mid-February, we (the MTA) received a call from one of our members complaining about an incident that happened to him this past November. This individual had received a summons to court from a game warden because he set a trap within 200 yards of a dwelling without the permission of the homeowner. The trapper had caught the homeowner’s cat and released it.

The trapper explained to us that while he didn’t have permission from the homeowner to set the trap, he did have permission from the owner of the land where the trap was set. The trapper did not believe he had violated the law, but he chose to handle the matter in what he considered to be the easiest and cheapest way out. He appeared in court, pled guilty and paid a hefty fine.

This situation really bothers me for several reasons. First off, if the incident happened exactly the way it was explained, the trapper was summoned to court for a violation that doesn’t exist. Secondly, the trapper compounded the problem by pleading guilty when he didn’t think he’d done anything wrong. Under this scenario, when all is said and done, the statistics show another trapper who was apprehended and convicted of violating the law.

It also reinforces the perception shared by some trappers and wardens that an abutting property owner can override a landowners decision to allow trapping on his or her property. That perception is false, and I’m not sure how we are ever going to get it straightened out. I don’t mean to beat on the trapper. He’s the one that was wronged, but taking the easiest and cheapest way out is not the right answer – especially when every one of these types of “violations” reflects badly on all trappers.

When I learned of this incident, I immediately fired off email messages to both Colonel Wilkinson, the Chief Warden, and Major Sanborn, the Assistant Chief. Here’s some of what I said:
“I know that there are always two sides to every story.

However, if this incident happened exactly as indicated, Mr. —— did nothing wrong. The violation in question is a law, not a rule (Title 12, section 12253, sub-section 2). This is how it reads:
2. Trapping near occupied dwelling without written consent. A person may not trap any wild animal within 200 yards of an occupied dwelling without first obtaining the written consent of the owner or occupant of the land on which the trap is to be set. The provisions of this subsection do not apply to beaver trapping or trapping with drowning sets on state-owned land or public rights-of-way.”

“At least once a year I hear from trappers who allege that they were either cited or warned for not having the permission of the abutting landowner when setting a trap within 200 yards of that person’s house. There is no such violation. You are only required to get permission from the owner or occupant of the land on which the trap is set. You are never required to get permission from an abutting landowner regardless of how close the trap is set to the abutting landowner’s home. Over the years, I’ve explained this law several times in the MTA newsletter and on two occasions have had wardens call me on the phone or send an email message to tell me I was wrong. In both cases, after I sent them a copy of the law, they got back to me and apologized. I haven’t yet checked the wording in the lawbook – maybe it needs to be written differently. The law itself, however, is very clear.

“Hopefully we can get this straightened out so that it doesn’t create problems every year. Thanks for your help.”

Within a day I received a response from both the Colonel and the Major. The incident is being investigated, and I’m still waiting to hear the results. In defense of the wardens, I think they do an outstanding job enforcing the law. I believe that more than 99.9% of the time, the person they summon to appear in court deserves to be there. I also know that there are always two sides to a story and that things do not always happen exactly as they are portrayed by the person on the receiving end of a citation. On the other hand, I have heard too many similar complaints from trappers with regard to the law requiring landowner permission to believe that all their complaints are without merit. I also know that the law itself is extremely confusing.

In short, the MTA will be reviewing the trapping laws that deal with landowner permission and comparing the language with the condensed version that currently appears in the hunting and trapping law book. If the problem cannot be “fixed” by changing the wording in the law book, we’ll be discussing the possibility of submitting a bill to the Legislature next winter. In the meantime, please do not go to court and plead guilty to a trapping violation if you honestly believe you have done nothing wrong!

Trappers Legal Defense Fund – What Do You Think?
Ever since I became aware of this latest incident involving a trapper who believes he was unjustly summoned to court, I’ve been giving it a lot of thought. I know from experience that people charged with violations often prefer to pay a fine and get the matter settled rather than face the expense of hiring an attorney and going to trial. Most of the time that makes sense – take responsibility for your actions and accept the penalty!

Once in a great while, however, a trapper winds up in court when he probably shouldn’t be there. Even though the trapper believes that he did nothing wrong, he doesn’t think he can afford an attorney. He goes to court and pays the fine but never gets over that feeling of resentment for being wronged – not a good situation.

I’ve been toying with the idea of asking the MTA to consider setting up what I would term a Legal Defense Fund for MTA members. In the unlikely event one of our members were to be wrongly cited for a violation of the trapping laws, this fund would be available to reimbuse that individual for some or all of his or her legal fees. To ensure that a violator did not try to take unfair advantage, the fund would be set up in such a way that legal fees would only be reimbursed following a decision by a district attorney or a judge that the trapper did not violate the law.

Would something like this be a good idea or not? Do you have other suggestions for how we might deal with these rare but significant incidents? I’d like to hear your thoughts on this before I go too far. You can email me at strask@prexar.com. I’ll talk more about this in the next newsletter.
Hope to see you at our Annual Spring Meeting in May! — Norm Trask

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