Maine Trappers Association November 2011 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 Road, 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 LIASON’S REPORT
ITP May Be Issued Soon – At What Cost?
It appears that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may finally be on the verge of announcing plans for issuing an Incidental Take Permit for lynx to the State of Maine. I know that you’ve heard this “rumor” a number of times over the past several years, but this time it may be for real. Word from the Department is that the proposed terms of the ITP will be printed in the Federal Register within a couple of months.

That will be the official start of the federal rule-making process. The announcement in the Federal Register will be followed by a public comment period consisting probably of either 60 or 90 days. Written comments, both pro and con, will be accepted from across the country. You can bet your bottom dollar that the animal protection groups will try their best to shoot it down. At the end of the comment period, the Feds will make a final decision on whether to issue the permit and, if it is to be issued, what terms and conditions will accompany it.
The conditions that the state will be asked to accept in order to receive the ITP will be the key to whether the MTA will support or oppose the issuance of the permit. On the one hand, as we have stated time and again, we desperately need an ITP to protect both the Department and individual trappers from liability whenever a lynx is taken incidentally in a trap. On the other hand, we may be better off continuing to trap without the protection of an ITP if the restrictions that accompany the ITP are as bad, or worse, than the terms of the Consent Decree that we are saddled with now.

We won’t know for sure what the ITP will require of us until the proposal appears in the Federal Register. Once that happens and we learn what’s in store, we’ll notify our members accordingly and then make a decision on whether to live with what’s being proposed or fight it. I’ve already received information from reliable sources that the Department is less than pleased with some of the language that is expected to be included in the federal proposal. I’ve been told that the Department has suggested several changes to the Feds within the past few months in hopes of making the proposal more palatable, but it appears that those suggestions have been largely ignored.

I guess that’s not surprising, given that at least one of the authors of the proposal has said and done things over a long period of time that, in my opinion, indicate a strong bias against trapping. Before we jump to conclusions, however, we need to see the proposal for ourselves.

220’s Legal On The Ground In WMDs 7, 14, 18 And 19
Trappers throughout the state may eventually be able to set 220’s on the ground. They will, of course, have to set those traps in enclosures protected by lynx “exclusion devices”. I know, there are lots of places where lynx don’t exist, but lynx exclusion devices will also prevent other non-target species from getting into the 7-inch body-grippers, including domestic dogs. This year, however, the use of 220’s on the ground will be limited to Wildlife Management Districts 7, 14, 18 and 19. Lynx do exist in all four of those WMDs, so smaller body grippers, including 110s and 120s, will also require the protection devices when used at baited sets on the ground.
As I’m sure you remember, increasing numbers of lynx in WMDs 14, 18 and 19 prompted the Department to adopted emergency rules last December to help protect against lynx being injured or killed in traps in those WMDs. Those emergency rules imposed the same “lynx related” trapping restrictions that have been in place for some time in WMDs 1 through 6 and 8 through 11.

Under the terms of a court approved Consent Decree that settled the first of two lynx related lawsuits, those “lynx protection” measures must remain in place in WMDs 1 through 6 and 8 through 11 until the Department receives an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) for lynx from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (the Feds). The same does not hold true in WMDs 14, 18 and 19. Those WMDs were not part of the Consent Decree, and the Department was not required to make changes to protect lynx in those districts.
Emergency rules only remain effective for 90 days, so they “self-destructed” early last spring. That meant that the Department, in order to continue to protect lynx in those WMDs, had to adopt new rules through the regular rule-making process. Prior to that happening, I petitioned the Department, on behalf of the MTA, to modify the lynx protection rules in WMDs 14, 18 and 19, as follows:
· Remove restrictions on the jaw-spread of foothold traps at land sets.
· Remove restrictions on the size of cage-type live traps.
· Allow the use of wooden-base (killer-type) rat traps for taking weasels.
· Allow the use of killer-type traps with a jaw-spread of 5 inches or less on the ground in baited boxes, or other enclosures, equipped with “lynx exclusion devices”.
The Department not only agreed to do what we requested, they went a couple of steps further. They increased the jaw-spread of body-grippers that could be set on the ground in conjunction with lynx “exclusion devices” to 7 inches (220s) and added WMD 7 to the list of districts where “protected” body-grippers could be set on the ground (WMD 7 has a small lynx population but was never one of the WMDs covered by the Consent Decree).
The use of “protected” body-grippers on the ground will be used this trapping season as a kind of experiment. If all goes well, and we believe it will, trappers can expect to eventually be allowed to use 220s on the ground at “protected” sets everywhere in the state. How soon this happens will depend, in part, on when the state receives an ITP for lynx from the Feds and what trapping restrictions are included as part of that permit.
The definition of a lynx exclusion device, as it applies to WMDs 7, 14, 18 and 19 this trapping season, was adopted by the Department through the rule-making process (has the force of law) and reads as follows:
In Wildlife Management Districts 7, 14, 18, and 19, killer-type traps with a jaw spread not to exceed 7.5 inches may be used on the ground level if the trap is placed within a lynx exclusion device. The trap jaws must be completely within the device, the trap springs can be outside of the device. The lynx exclusion device must not have an opening greater than 6 inches by 8 inches, the set trap within the device must be a minimum of 18 inches from the closest edge of the opening to the trap (intended for 160 and 220 conibear traps) or; if the device has a 4 inches by 4 inches or less opening, the trap must be a minimum of 12 inches from the closest edge of the opening to the trap (intended for 120 conibear traps).

The opening must not be directly in front of the trap rather on the top or on the side of the device. The back of the device must be secured to withstand heavy pulling; if using wire mesh with a wood box, the wire mesh must wrap around two opposite sides of the box and be secured. There must be at least 2 attachment points for each side of the device were there is a joint or panels come together.

The exclusion device can be constructed of wood, or wire mesh that does not exceed 1.5 inch openings (side to side). The wire mesh has to be 16 gauge or less (wire diameter of 0.05 or greater). The opening slot in the exclusion device that allows the trap springs to extend outside the device can be no more than 7.5 inches wide and a height of no more than 1.5 inches. The trap must be anchored outside of the exclusion device. Bait must not be visible from above.

Season Dates And Restrictions For 2011/2012 Beaver Season
Dates for the upcoming beaver trapping season were officially adopted by the Department at the September meeting of the Advisory Council. Longer seasons in some WMDs offer more opportunity to trap for beaver than in previous years. Here are the dates for the 2011/2012 beaver season:
Wildlife Management Districts (WMDs) 1, 2, 4 & 5 — October 16th through April 30th
WMDs 3, 6, 8, 9, 10 & 11 — November 1st through April 30th
WMDs 18, 19, 27 & 28 — November 1st through April 15th
WMDs 7, 12, 13, 14 & 17 — November 1st through March 31st
WMDs 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, & 29 — December 1st through March 31st
After the close of the regular fall trapping season, the season remains open to the trapping of muskrats in all areas that are also open to beaver trapping. During this period, muskrats may be trapped with body-grippers, footholds and colony traps, but after February 28th (previously March 31st) footholds may not be set on floats unless the floats are covered.

A covered float is defined in Department rules as “a float completely covered on the sides and top with hardware cloth, screen, or other similar material, having a mesh size no greater than 1/2 inch square. Access to the float will be limited to openings at the extreme ends of the float and the openings will not exceed 7 inches in height, or 14 inches in width. The use of exposed bait or visible attractor on covered floats is prohibited. Only one trap may be placed per float; the trap must be recessed 3 inches or greater from any opening in the cover; the trap chain or wire must be at least 3 feet long; and the maximum foothold trap size for covered floats sets will be No. 1 ½.”

Inconsistent Set-Back Distances Creating Confusion
Just about every year some issue comes up that generates a lot of questions. This year the issue involves set-back distances for beaver traps. Trappers are having a hard time trying to figure out where they can set traps on or immediately adjacent to active beaver dams and beaver houses and where they can’t. I’ve received a dozen or more calls, letters and emails asking questions about set-back distances.

There seems to be an assumption out there that Wildlife Management Districts either have set-back requirements or the requirements have been completely removed. Not true. In six WMDs you are allowed to trap on a live beaver dam but not on a house or vice versa. That’s why, in order to stay out of trouble, you need to know which WMD you are trapping and which, if any, set-back requirement is in effect there. The rules are listed below. Write them down and keep them with you. Most important of all, know which WMD you are standing in when you set each trap!
In general, you are required to set your traps a distance of at least 10 feet from any beaver house and at least 5 feet from any live (active) beaver dam.
To make it easier to take beaver in WMDs with excessive numbers of beaver, one or both of the general set-back requirements have been removed, as follows:
In Wildlife Management Districts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 there is no required setback distance from a beaver house.
In Wildlife Management Districts 1, 2, 4, 8, 9, and 10 there is no required setback distance from an active beaver dam.
As you can see, both set-back requirements have been removed only in WMDs 1, 2 and 4. In the other six, it’s one or the other. I agree with many of the trappers I’ve heard from that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to eliminate the setback for dams in a WMD and retain the setback for houses, but that’s how it’s set up right now. Hopefully we’ll eventually be able to get some consistency in how these issues are handled and eliminate a lot of confusion. Hope this explanation is helpful!

Trigger Modification Proposal Angers Many Trappers
Trapping of otter during the spring beaver season has been the subject of considerable controversy for several years. At issue is whether these otter are being taken by accident in legitimate beaver sets or, as some have alleged, trappers are actually targeting otter at that time of year even though the season is officially closed. Only the folks setting the traps know for certain which scenario is accurate. We all know that otter are occasionally taken by accident in beaver sets, and I suspect there are a few who are trying to catch otter, especially now that spring otter pelts are selling at decent prices. Whether by accident or by design, the springtime otter harvest is significant. Some years it may account for up to 20% of the annual statewide harvest.
The Department has apparently been receiving a lot of pressure from somewhere to find ways to reduce the number of otter being taken in the spring. The Department has stated publicly that they have received complaints from both trappers and the general public about female otter being taken at that time of year. It is still unclear to me whether the Department sees this as a biological issue (over harvest) or a social issue (trapping pregnant females). Whatever their view, they announced plans earlier this year to adopt a rule that would require modification of the triggering devices on killer-type traps set for beaver during the months of March and April. The intended result of this change was to reduce the incidental catch of otter in beaver sets at that time of year by allowing otters to swim safely through traps without springing them.
Their proposal is worded so that, during the months of March and April, all body-grippers having a jaw spread greater than 7 1/2 inches would be required to have the two trigger wires joined together and pushed to the side of the trap a distance of 8-inches. In theory, otters would swim completely through the 8-inch opening without hitting the trigger while beavers would spring the trap and be caught. The Department decided on this approach to protecting otters on the basis of studies conducted in New York and North Carolina. Both those states have recently been involved in projects to try to restore otter populations to areas where they’ve been absent for decades. The studies provide some evidence that the incidental catch of otter in 10-inch and larger body-grippers can be reduced by twisting the trigger wires together and moving them to the side of the trap.
In early August, when the Department officially started the process of adopting this change and spelled out the details of what this proposal would require trappers to do, many trappers “went ballistic”.

During my 15 years of working for the MTA, I have never before received as many complaints from our members about a proposed rule change. A lot of the calls and messages I received were from longtime members who have never before complained to me about anything. Some were extremely disappointed that the Department would require modifications to a trap that would make the trap less humane. (I felt that way too and still do despite arguments by the Department that the off-set trigger arrangement may be more humane than conventional trigger placement.)

Others raised issues about no longer being able to use their 280s during March and April, broken trigger wires from repeated adjustments, being required to modify dozens of traps even though they’ve seldom (or never) taken an incidental otter, the need for wardens to pull every trap to check for compliance and (something that made no sense to them) the fact that unmodified 220s would remain legal.

MTA Takes Strong Stand Against Unnecessary Trapping Restriction
Shortly after the Department announced their intention to require off-set triggers on 330s during March and April, the MTA Board of Directors voted to vigorously oppose this change. The Board determined that this proposal was unreasonable, unnecessary, and unenforceable and that it would almost certainly be detrimental to the future of trapping. On September 4th, I sent three pages of written comments to the Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife expressing the MTA’s “adamant opposition” to the off-set trigger proposal and requesting that the Department withdraw the proposal.

At the same time, we acknowledged the incidental take of female otter during the spring and promised to work with the Department to reduce the incidental catch if the annual allowable harvest of otter is being exceeded. The final paragraph of my written comments reads as follows:
“The MTA routinely supports rule changes necessary to maintain healthy furbearer populations and to ensure the use of humane trapping techniques. This proposal is not consistent with either of those objectives.

For all the reasons we have cited, we respectfully request that you withdraw this proposal. In spite of our strong opposition to the proposal, however, we share the Department’s concern about female otter being taken incidentally in the spring, and we feel that it is extremely important to find out to what extent this is happening. Therefore, beginning with the 2011 fall trapping season, we request that you start recording the sex of each otter harvested. This could easily be accomplished through observation of the dried pelt at the time it is presented to a Department representative for tagging.

If, after a three year period, it is determined that the incidental take of female otter during the spring beaver season is sufficiently high to adversely impact otter populations in some Wildlife Management Districts, the MTA will work with you to find acceptable ways to remedy the situation.”

Department Forwards Unpopular Proposal To Advisory Council
The Fish and Wildlife Advisory Council is a rather unique body. It is comprised of ten members of the public who represent the 16 counties of the State in the following manner: one member represents Androscoggin County, Kennebec County and Sagadahoc County; one member represents Aroostook County; one member represents Cumberland County; one member represents Franklin County and Oxford County; one member represents Hancock County; one member represents Knox County, Lincoln County and Waldo County; one member represents Penobscot County; one member represents Piscataquis County and Somerset County; one member represents Washington County; and one member represents York County. Members of the Advisory Council are appointed by the Governor, subject to review by the joint standing committee of the Legislature having jurisdiction over fisheries and wildlife matters and to confirmation by the Legislature. The purpose of the Advisory Council is to give the Commissioner information and advice concerning the administration of the Department.

The Advisory Council is not a rule-making body. Only the Commissioner may adopt rules. However, the Commissioner is not allowed to adopt a rule without first getting the consent of the Advisory Council. In other words, the Council has the power to veto any rule proposed by the Commissioner.
On September 28th, at a meeting held in Rangeley, the Department asked for the Advisory Council’s consent to adopt a rule mandating the use of off-set triggers on 330s during March and April. The Department made a presentation explaining the justification for the change. They distributed a handout addressing the various concerns raised by the MTA in our written opposition to the proposal and explaining why the Department felt it appropriate to proceed with the change in spite of trapper objections. They distributed a second handout summarizing the results of the tests conducted in New York and North Carolina on the effectiveness of off-set triggers in avoiding otter.
In preparation for the Council meeting, I had obtained all the available information about those tests from the websites of the wildlife agencies in both New York and North Carolina, and I will only say that I was extremely disappointed that the handout the Council received did not contain a lot of the information that would have been helpful to them in making an informed decision. However, prior to that meeting I had contacted each Council member by email and had later talked with several of them, either by phone or in person, explaining why the off-set trigger requirement should be rejected. I had discussed the issue at length with Council member Mike Witte, an avid trapper and MTA member.

To my knowledge, Mike is the only Council member that currently traps. He told me that he’d be unable to attend the Council meeting in Rangeley but would contact each of the other Council members and express his strong objection to the proposal. He followed through as promised, and his input played a key role in helping other members decide how to vote. A considerable number of other MTA members also contacted Advisory Council members and expressed strong opposition to this proposal. I’d like to thank Mike as well as you other trappers who made calls and sent email messages. It made my job a lot easier!

Council Unanimously Rejects Off-Set Trigger Requirement
Following the Department presentation on the off-set trigger proposal, it was requested by Lance Wheaton, Council member from Washington County, that I be allowed to comment on the proposal on behalf of the MTA. I wish to express my thanks to Lance for making the request and to Stephen Philbrick, Chairman of the Council, for allowing me the opportunity to speak. Following my brief presentation, a motion was made by Vice Chairman Cathy DeMerchant to adopt an amended version of the proposed beaver trapping rules, eliminating completely the Department proposal to require trigger modification on body grippers during March and April.

The Council then voted 6 to 0 (4 members were absent) to accept her motion. As a result, the off-set trigger proposal is dead. The other three Council members who voted against this proposal and in support of Maine trappers were Jeff Lewis (Hancock County), Lila Ware (Piscataquis and Somerset Counties) and Richard Thurston (Cumberland County). If you have the opportunity, please tell these folks how much you appreciate what they did for us.

Where Do We Go From Here?
Now that the off-set trigger proposal is “off the table”, at least for now, what can we expect from the Department regarding the incidental otter harvest during spring beaver season? That’s a good question.

First of all, I think they need to find out if the problem is as bad as some have led them to believe it is. They know about how many otter are being taken at that time of year but don’t know what percentage are females. The Department, at the Council meeting, cited a 2008 study (which I haven’t seen) indicating that female otters are more susceptible to being taken incidentally in beaver traps than males. I’m not sure if that study included springtime beaver trapping or not, but I’m sure it wasn’t specific to that time of year.

The anecdotal information I’ve been receiving from trappers indicates that as many as two-thirds of the otter being taken during March and April are males, but that may be inaccurate. The Department really needs to get a handle on this before they impose more regulations and, as we’ve suggested to them, recording the sex of each otter at the time the pelt is tagged would quickly and easily give them that information.

Small Sample Size Raises Questions About Otter Studies
What we don’t need is a complicated and unpopular rule like an off-set trigger requirement that, in my opinion, serves only as “window dressing” to give the impression to the protectionists that the incidental catch of female otter is being addressed. For example, the “field” portion of the New York study was inconclusive as to the effectiveness of off-set triggers in reducing the incidental take of otter. It involved 13 trappers setting an equal number of unmodified and modified traps (conventional trigger arrangement versus off-set triggers). The test involved a total of 451 trap nights for each type of trigger configuration. The result was a total catch of 216 beaver, 14 muskrats and 2 otter.

The number of beaver taken in traps with off-set triggers was about the same as what were taken with the conventional setup. Most all of the muskrats were taken with the conventional trigger. One otter was taken with a conventional trigger, and the otherwas taken in a trap with an off-set trigger. (Not exactly overwhelming evidence!)
While I don’t have all the particulars about how the North Carolina study was conducted, that study concluded that the off-set trigger arrangement might reduce the incidental take of otter by as much as 50%. It is my understanding that the sample size in this study was also quite small. In any event, it indicated that off-set triggers would also reduce the muskrat catch by at least 75% (not a good thing if you depend on incidental ‘rats to help pay your gas bill). North Carolina has been involved in otter restoration projects for decades and has been continually trying to find ways to keep otter out of beaver traps. Today they have a healthy otter population and a statewide season. Their otter season ends on February 28th, however, and their beaver season remains open during the month of March. If the off-set trigger arrangement is the answer to avoiding incidental otter, why doesn’t North Carolina require it during the month of March?
The answer, to me, is obvious. It isn’t worth it. Any otter that might be saved with an off-set trigger requirement wouldn’t begin to compensate for the negative “fall out” from catching animals by their extremities or the public relations problems associated with forcing trappers to “swallow” an unpopular rule. Even in New York, in portions of the state where otter populations are healthy, they choose to keep the otter season open throughout the entire beaver season (November 1st through April 7th) rather than impose an off-set trigger requirement. In western parts of the state, where otter restoration projects are ongoing, the season is completely closed on otters and off-set triggers are required on 330s set for beaver. Is it working? Is the incidental otter kill being reduced?

I guess it depends on who you ask. Anecdotal information from trappers indicates that some, at least, are placing “stabilizer” sticks between the jaws of 330 traps so as to force animals toward the side of the trap where the trigger is located. If this is being done, the intended effects of the off-set trigger are neutralized, and just about every animal that tries to swim through the trap, be it beaver, muskrat or otter, is killed quickly and humanely.

Off-Set Trigger Restrictions Clearly Not The Answer!
The effectiveness of off-set triggers in reducing the incidental take of otter is very much up in the air. Requiring traps to be modified in this manner is also extremely controversial. Most Maine trappers don’t want it and shouldn’t be saddled with it.

Maine has a thriving otter population. On a statewide basis, the number of otter we are currently harvesting falls far short of what the Department has determined to be biologically acceptable. If the Department determines that trappers are taking too many otter from some areas, they should pursue other methods to reduce the harvest. When they have the data to show that a reduction in the otter harvest is necessary in certain WMDs, the MTA will work with them to find a satisfactory solution.

That’s it until next time! Have a safe and enjoyable trapping season. Catch some fur, make some money, and, most important of all, have some fun!

— Norm (Skip) Trask

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