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Trapper Thoughts

By George Michaud

Being a trapper is something I am very proud of. I know animals and I know their habits well enough to not only track them but also to be able to predict where that animal will place its next step within 2 square inches. I know their habits well enough to catch and kill them in large numbers. But the trick is to know how many animals can be taken without destroying their breeding stock, taking enough so that you can maintain the environment. Trapping is like ranching, you try to maintain a viable herd.

If I were to trap as the “Defenders of Wildlife” say I do, there wouldn’t be any animals left. “Defenders of Wildlife” say there aren’t any animals left now. This is from people 90% of whom do not believe that elk and deer shed their antlers every year and who claim to know how old a deer is before it becomes an elk. I have trapped the same wilderness area for 12 years, in fact the same beaver pond for 12 years. After the beavers exhausted the supply of willows and aspens in the area, they moved down stream about 1⁄4 mile and built a new pond.

“Defenders of Wildlife” blame the destruction of the wolf on trappers when the real culprit was the Federal Government and Veterinarians. The trappers were not denning wolves—digging out wolf pups—they didn’t want to destroy their livelihoods. According to the Dept. of Agriculture not enough wolves were being killed and the wolves were poison shy ie. they avoided poisoned baits. That is when the Dept. of Agriculture came up with the great idea of having veterinarians infect captured wolves and wolf pups with sarcoptic mange and then releasing them back into the wild. Sarcoptic mange is very contagious and fatal only after a very long period of acute suffering.

These are sick people. They did the same thing for rabbits in my area. There used to be a 7 year cycle in the rabbit population, it doesn’t happen anymore. The Depart. of Agriculture struck again. At the urging of ranchers and farmers, they infected the rabbits. I haven’t seen a jackrabbit in this area in 14 years. There aren’t any, but not because of trapping.

This stupid action, using infectious diseases, has really upset the balance. It crossed over to the snowshoe rabbit population where the jackrabbit and the snowshoe rabbit’s habitat overlap. This has had a very detrimental effect on the Canadian Lynx. There aren’t many lynx around anymore because the main food source for the Canadian Lynx is rabbits. No rabbits means no lynx. This has also detrimentally affected a number of other species like fox, hawks, eagles, coyotes and owls. These animals all depend on rabbits for some part of their diet.

“We are from the government and we are here to help you. We will fix it ’till it’s broke.”

They scream that logging is destroying the forests. I like logging, it opens up the forest. I especially like clear cutting, if the logging is done in a patchwork quilt pattern. This way there is cover for big game at the edge of every clearing where they are feeding. I also want the forest service to leave the slash piles. These provide shelter for small game that also feed in the clear cuts.

I know the next one of my beliefs will raise a few hackles. I want them to log the stream banks for about a hundred yards on each side, again in a patchwork, each clear cut being about 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 mile in length.

Now that you have calmed down, let me explain. There are some American Indians who believe the beaver built the world by bring mud up from the bottom of the ocean. Beavers are habitat builders. By clear-cutting the stream banks of old growth timber, you open it up so that grass, willows, and aspen can grow along the banks.

When there are sufficient willows and aspen, the beaver will move in and build a pond. These ponds that the beaver build not only support the beaver, it supports an entire ecosystem from bugs to big game.

Along with the beaver there are muskrats, mink (that hunt the muskrat), otter, fish, turtles, frogs, snakes, ducks, geese, swans, and bugs which inhabit the pond.  At the edges of the pond are rabbits, mice, voles, moles, fox, coyotes, pine marten, weasels, elk, deer, and moose.

I trap 1 to 3 beaver every year from the ponds trying to take only half of the last years litter. Beaver produce 2 to 6 young every year depending on food supplies. In this way I can maintain the balance between beavers and their food source.

When trapping muskrats I want to take 50% to 75 % of the muskrats. The reason being is that a pair of muskrats, under optimum conditions, can produce 100 muskrats in a season. The adults can breed every 6 to 8 weeks starting in March with 10 kits per litter. At 8 weeks of age the young can breed, so in a short time, you can have a lot of muskrats. Again by trapping up to 75% (depending on population and food source) I can maintain a healthy muskrat population. The muskrats are not only a food source for predators, the lodges that the muskrats build in the fall become nests for ducks, geese, and swans in the spring. If they aren’t trapped they overpopulate in a short time, eating themselves out of house and home. Then disease takes over and wipes the population out and everything suffers. It is all connected.

The point here is that there is a surplus of animals produced every year that can either be used or wasted. If you kill it you have to eat it is one thing I hear over and over. Okay if you eat it the meal is with you for 1 day. If you take the fur, you can make a garment that will last a lifetime. By selling the furs you can support a family. Fur is a renewable natural resource, no petrochemicals are used is its manufacture. The latest studies have proved that for warmth nothing surpasses fur! Plus, it is beautiful.

I have worked on several wildlife studies and what I learned is that I won’t do it anymore. On one wildlife study, they wanted to study pine marten and they had a $50,000 grant to do it. The first thing the people doing the study learned was that they couldn’t catch the pine marten to study them. So, they hired us trappers to live trap them. At the beginning we told them what the habits of the pine marten were. At the end of the study they learned that everything we told them was true. But the reason I won’t help in any more studies is that I caught one of the pine marten that had been radio collared after the study was over. Its fur was ratty and the animal was starving to death. The radio collar was making it impossible for the animal to hunt.

Sure I kill hundreds of animals every year but I am not going to torture them for weeks until they finally starve to death. We trappers know the animals better than these people with their college degrees ever will. Our livelihood depends on it and yet we are portrayed as the bad guys.

One woman complained that I was trapping and killing all the animals. The game warden told her that there was more wildlife in the area since I started trapping than before I came. It was true. I wanted to build up the habitat and the animal population so I would have more animals to trap. The game warden even gave me live traps so I could catch beavers that were causing problems for the local ranchers during the summer and transplant them to areas where I wanted more beaver ponds.

My relatives were trapping here in the Tetons in the 1840s and other relatives were guides and trappers out of Bent’s Fort on the Santa Fe Trail. I come from a long line of trappers and hunters on both sides of my family.

Now that I have ranted and raved and you know where I am coming from. I will tell you how to catch the animals in a later posting.

January 7, 2010Karen Hood