Trappers and Wildlife – in Trouble

Bobcats are an invisible growing predator concern in many parts of the United States. Jill Easton Photo

  • Understanding Trapping, a Series – PART 1
  • Predators and Prey
  • Community Safety
  • Trapper Heritage Dwindling 
Bobcats are an invisible growing predator concern in many parts of the United States.  Jill Easton Photo
Bobcats are an invisible growing predator concern in many parts of the United States. Jill Easton Photo

By Jill J Easton

The sad truth is that just like hungry hunters the world over, wild predators like eggs. Ground nesting birds – quail, pheasants, grouse, turkeys – and their eggs,  are extremely vulnerable until a few weeks after the eggs have hatched and the babies can fly to escape.

Raccoons, skunks, possums, armadillos, foxes, hogs, coyotes and more, all relish a good meal of eggs or poults. The bigger predators don’t mind eating the hens either.  Martin, fisher and bobcats are opportunistic feeders that will eat eggs if they happen across them, but they aren’t actively searching for eggs in spring.  Unfortunately, most of the apex wild predators like wolves and cougars that once served as a control on these smaller egg-and-bird-eating mammals have been wiped out.  Humans with traps are the only remaining defense to keep us from being overrun by egg-eating varmints.

Although a few egg-eaters get shot by hunters, the huge majority of these animals removed from the ecosystem are taken by trappers.  However, before you give trappers a hearty cheer and go back to your own problems, we are going to have a short lesson in economics in the modern world.  Things have recently changed, and the fur market, in a word, stinks.

I’ve captured a healthy coyote with trapping methods that help control coyote groups, a growing concern for residential housing communities where the expanding coyote populations of America have demonstrated they prey on newborn fawns, house cats, small dogs, and other community pets.  Jill Easton Photo
I’ve captured a healthy coyote with trapping methods that help control coyote groups, a growing concern for residential housing communities where the expanding coyote populations of America have demonstrated they prey on newborn fawns, house cats, small dogs, and other community pets. Jill Easton Photo

Until three years ago, most of the fur that was trapped in the United States was sold to China, Russia and Greece.  China and Russia had a growing middle class that could afford luxuries like fur coats.  These countries have become economically unstable and the people who were joining the middle class and buying luxury items can no longer afford them.

A few months ago, I sold some quality XXL coon skins at the North American Fur Auction in Canada.  Three years ago, similar skins averaged $22, this year most went for less than $2, and two went for a quarter each.  Being a fur trapper just doesn’t pay anymore.  Fur prices were far better in 1951 than they are today.  Even worse for the past three years raccoon hides have been just about unsellable.

There are some of us who will continue to trap and wait for prices to rise again when the world economic situation improves, but thousands of trappers have hung up their traps and probably won’t take them down again.  In the modern world, trapping is an aging man’s sport with a lot of enemies.  When it’s impossible to even make gas money, the long hours, stolen traps, bitter discussions with anti’s and hard work get discouraging fast.

This leaves most landowners, hunting lease members and public land hunters in a dire pickle.  If you haven’t seen it already, soon you will notice declines in huntable wildlife, especially turkeys, ducks and quail, as raccoon and skunk numbers explode and hogs continue to proliferate.  This problem will also affect deer, but it will be caused by a bigger predator, the coyote.

As a good steward of the land you have two choices: either pay someone to take out surplus egg-eating predators, or learn to do your own trapping.  For generations, landowners have paid for beaver control, but coons, foxes, bobcats and coyotes have generally been valuable enough to cover the trapper’s expenses. All the landowner had to do was grant the trapper(s) permission to trap, without having to pay anything for the service they were getting.

That’s no longer the case.  Fur trapping, for the short-term future, is DEAD for all intents and purposes.  Things will improve down the road somewhere as the world economy gets back on its feet, but for the next few years at least, landowners and hunting clubs will have to do their own predator control.  They will need to hire somebody to do it or live with the undesirable consequences.

For the next few weeks we are going to work through each of the animals that are most dangerous to huntable wildlife, talk a bit about their life cycles and give the basics of how to trap them.

Watch for our trapping story series to continue next week – we will start with wild pigs.