Trappers must be committed
(Reprinted from above link)
YORK — As Ralph Wagner hops in his truck at daybreak on a Saturday morning to check his animal traps, memories of four decades of trapping rush through his head.
“When my boys were younger, I got to be outside with them around 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning, checking our traps,” Wagner said. “Whether we caught anything or not, it was good quality time with my boys. There was no TV or interruptions. It was just me and them being able to talk, and that’s time you’ll always value as a parent.”
Trapping is Wagner’s passion, but it was also a tool he used to raise his two sons.
“I would get them up before school, check the traps with them at around 5 o’clock, and then they’d go back to bed or just start getting ready for school. If you’re a 10- or 11-year-old kid and you’re checking traps almost every day before school, you learn discipline,” he said. “And if you don’t do well in school, then you don’t get to go trapping with Dad. It’s that simple, and it worked.”
His boys are grown now, but Wagner still checks about 20 traps every day throughout the Susquehanna Valley.
“This is commitment, and you have to follow through. Just like at work, you have to be there at a certain time,” Wagner said. “The law says I have to check my traps every 36 hours. But I check them every 24 hours. I owe that to the animal.”
Wagner is the District 11 director of the Pennsylvania Trappers Association. He educates people on how the purpose of trapping has evolved over time, from clothes making and fur trading to pelt selling and now even some niche uses.
“It’s always been a monetary sport. There is money in specific fur. Unfortunately, the market right now is pretty depressed,” Wagner said. “A lot of trappers use furs now to make teddy bears for children, receiving blankets for kids, bed spreads for family members. So, we’re always using what we’re catching.”
Skill set and education
Though hunting and trapping are often bunched together, Wagner says the commitment levels are much different.
“If you’re a hunter and it’s pouring down rain, you can hit the alarm clock and go back to bed,” Wagner said. “As a trapper, you owe it to the animal to make sure you check the traps every day. It’s an ethical thing.”
Setting traps for specific animals requires learning more about the targeted animals, and even more about the animals a furtaker is not trying to catch.
“You want to make sure you’re setting traps near a target animal. You don’t want to be near a hiking trail where you’re going to catch someone’s dog,” Wagner said. “You have to learn what your target animal eats and likes, but you also have to know what other animals like, so you don’t set a bait that will attract that animal. There’s a lot of preparation.”
The basic requirement for a furtakers license is a standard hunter safety course. But those looking to use a cable restraint trap — a multistrand woven-wire trap with a mechanism that can prevent accidental killing and escape — must complete a special four-hour course.
“A lot of people that trap are better hunters. You have to learn a lot more about the animals. You have to learn their habits and how they do things,” Wagner said. “On the other side, there’s a bigger learning curve for hunters that are becoming trappers. Education is very important in trapping.”
The animals most commonly trapped in central Pennsylvania are muskrats, foxes, raccoons, coyotes and beavers. However, Wagner said that the three animals Pennsylvania trappers covet the most are bobcats, fishers and otters.
“Those are the big three everyone is after,” he said. “You just have to make sure you are in the right wildlife management unit.”
Controversy and management
Trapping is seen as controversial by some groups, which call the practice antiquated and inhumane. Born Free USA is an animal activism group based in Maryland that holds strong views against trapping.
When asked for comment, Born Free USA pointed to a statement on its website: “Trapping apologists frequently claim that trapping is humane, tightly regulated, selective, and necessary. But, in truth, trapping is a cruel practice that causes great suffering. And, trapping is everywhere — public, private, and even protected lands and recreational areas are not immune. As a result, targeted and nontargeted animals (like household pets and endangered species), and even humans, can fall victim to these traps.”
Wagner, however, feels trapping can provide a healthier surviving animal population.
“The most inhumane thing we can do to wildlife is not manage it,” Wagner said. “If you don’t manage it, wildlife population can increase immensely and then you can get into rabies issues. We’ve had rabies issues in this region before. If you don’t manage these animals, you can run into problems like mange and distemper. The cruelest thing we could do is not manage it.”
Wagner said a key part of trapping is also contributing to the survival of the species being targeted.
“We have researchers take blood and hair samples from our coyote catches to study them. The Game Commission did a study last year on beavers, and they were getting carcasses from trappers so they could study beaver reproduction. Muskrats are disappearing now, and the Game Commission is collecting muskrat carcasses from trappers to try to find an answer,” he said. “So, even though we aren’t making a lot of money, we’re helping with some important research.”