Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cable Restraint Trapping Still Not Caught On

Sunday, January 15, 2012
Hal Korber/Pennsylvania Game Commission

Cable restraints can be a good option
for trapping gray foxes, particularly
 in snow and ice, but trappers say the
 law  is difficult to follow
Cable restraints can be a good option for trapping gray foxes, particularly in snow and ice, but trappers say the law is difficult to follow.
The faint, musky whiff of another fox's marking post triggers a primal territorial response, beckoning the gray fox toward the hidden trap. The wily canine sniffs, looks around and nears the bait. It raises its paw, hesitates, steps directly onto the snow-covered pad of the coil-spring trap and ...Nothing.

Long before the establishment of the first North American fur-trading post at Quebec in 1608, trappers have had a problem with ice and snow. It hardens around the coilsprings and freezes the metal dog to the pan, forming a stiff frozen block that won't spring under a fox's 11 pounds, no matter what pelt prices are going for.

Since the 2005-06 season, Pennsylvania trappers have had another tool at their disposal: no-kill cable restraint traps. A multi-strand woven-wire snare with a no-slip locking mechanism that prevents accidental killing and escape, a cable restraint is generally rigged on paths where furbearers routinely travel. The traps are easier on the ankles of domestic dogs when they're unintentionally caught, but that's an ancillary advantage. Simple, light and effective, modern cable restraints are less susceptible to ice and snow.

"It's more difficult to use foothold traps where the ground is frozen, or freezing and thawing," said Tom Hardisky, a furbearer biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. "Regardless of the weather, the [cable restraint] still works."

A statewide cable restraint trapping season for foxes and coyotes started Dec. 26 and runs through Feb. 19.

Another cable advantage is the trap's relative selectivity. When properly set, the size of the snare loop and proximity to the ground determine the size and dimensions of the target species -- more so than a less discriminant foothold trap -- giving the trapper the option of dispatching the animal or releasing it relatively unharmed. Cable restraints are small and lightweight (meaning longer trap lines) and inexpensive (about $1.50).

After reviewing cable restraint studies conducted by midwest states, Pennsylvania adopted a set of laws and regulations mostly mirroring those of Wisconsin. Limited species may be targeted, but a new rule legalizes incidental catches of non-targeted in-season species when the trapper has proper licensing (effectively adding bobcat to the cable restraint species list). Cable restraint trappers have to pass a certification course, and the game commission set a short winter season.

"The reason we have the season after Christmas is it's much easier to catch foxes and coyotes in cable restraints when the ground is frozen," said Hardisky.

But the cable-restraint alternative has been slow to catch on in Pennsylvania.

Trapping participation routinely fluctuates with pelt prices, which have been generally down for several years. Of the 35,267 trappers who purchased a furtaker license during the 2009-10 season, about 33.75 percent (11,903) actually used their traps during that period, according to a PGC mail survey. About 9 percent (1,071) of license holders who trapped were certified to use cable restraints, but 12 percent of them did not use the devices.

The survey found 36 percent of trappers were not certified to use cable restraints but intended to take the course, and 43 percent were neither certified nor interested in taking the course. During this relatively mild January, Pennsylvania trappers have had less need for the weather resistant cable alternative. But their resistance to cable restraints may have more to do with what some have called "impracticalities" in the laws and regulations.

"Cable restraints can be good, but the way they're doing it makes it difficult," said Tom Billard, a past district director and current member of the Pennsylvania Trappers Association. A trapper for 40 years, Billard, from eastern Pennsylvania, is among the 12 percent of cable-restraint certified trappers who don't use them.

"Part of the problem is the time of year," he said. "Trapping seasons start in October, and if you talk to trappers you'll find most guys are done trapping by the time deer season starts. The cable restraint season comes in after Christmas. You'd probably see more guys looking into it if the season was expanded forward."

More difficult to manage, said Billard, are cable restraint "entanglement" rules. To prevent the animal's accidental death before the trapper arrives, the restraint must be set in such a way that the ensnared animal has 360 degrees of unencumbered mobility from the anchor point, with no contact with brush, trees or fences. The "restraint circle" may not include anything the animal could climb over that could cause accidental strangulation, and even nearby grasses that could become twisted in the cable could cause a trapper to be in violation of the law before possible entanglement occurs.

The verbiage of Pennsylvania's cable restraint law is widely seen by trappers as ambiguous and open to individual interpretation, making it a crime for there to be even "the risk of the cable restraint becoming entangled."

"The entanglement rules are really tough to abide by," said Billard. "It sounds great: you'll set the cable in a wheat field with a trail running through it. But if it wraps in the weeds and the tangle is more than 1 inch, you're illegal. It can get difficult."

An experienced trapper who has used cable restraints, Hardisky said the devices just need more time to catch on. "New things are hard to get people to accept," he said.

Trappers also have to accept the realities of pelt prices, which are currently on par with those of last year. Billard, who recently hosted a live-bid fur auction for the Pennsylvania Trappers Association, described the going rates as, "not astronomical."

Raccoon pelts are running $15-$16. Red fox is going for $21-$22.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments will be moderated. Anyone may comment.