CONCORD, NH — Sharing the outdoors is a longstanding tradition in New Hampshire. A part of that tradition involves a skilled group of outdoor enthusiasts who take part in trapping, a highly regulated activity that provides important benefits to the state.
Trapping seasons in New Hampshire typically run from October through March statewide, with the bulk of trapping activity on land occurring during the months of November and December.
This long-standing part of New Hampshire’s cultural heritage remains relevant and necessary today. Trappers are a unique group among New Hampshire’s outdoor enthusiasts, having an unparalleled eye for picking up on natural surroundings and understanding wildlife behavior. Though relatively few in number (479 licenses were sold in New Hampshire in 2016), skilled trappers provide an extremely valuable service to society by helping to manage abundant wildlife populations and collect biological samples, at no cost. They also contribute to public safety by maintaining beaver populations at manageable levels, preventing flooding of public roadways and urban areas. Trapping overall helps to keep furbearer populations at healthy levels. This helps prevent over-population, which can significantly increase the risk of spreading diseases such as rabies and canine distemper. With specialized skills and training and a deep connection to the natural world, trappers are a vital resource for a state that aspires to strike a balance between wildlife conservation and wildlife/human conflict management.
Trapping may take place on public or private lands. “To set traps on privately owned land, trappers must possess and file written landowner permission,” explains Patrick Tate, a Wildlife Biologist and the Furbearer Project Leader for Fish and Game. “Furthermore, people should be aware that state law prohibits traps from being set or arranged in a public way, cart road, or path commonly used as a passageway by human beings or domestic animals.”
Fish and Game biologists remind all users of public and private lands in the state to be aware of multiple uses that may be taking place. For example, the state’s Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) are lands that have been purchased with state and federal funds provided by license fees and excise taxes paid by people purchasing hunting, trapping and fishing licenses and equipment. Anyone walking a dog, or using a WMA for other non-hunting activities, should be aware of hunting and trapping seasons as they use these areas.
“New Hampshire has a long tradition of sharing the outdoors,” says Tate. “During the hunting and trapping seasons, it’s sensible to stay on established trails and wear an article of blaze orange clothing when recreating in rural areas.” On WMAs, dog walkers are also encouraged to keep their dogs on a leash during open trapping seasons.
Following are some key points about the critical role of trapping in New Hampshire:
Did You Know? Facts about Trapping in New Hampshire
Trapping is a highly regulated activity. Persons wishing to trap must attend mandatory Trapper Education classes, purchase a license, file written landowner permission with New Hampshire Fish and Game, adhere to science-based regulations and harvest limits, check traps daily, and report their catch along with their effort. Traps with over a 6.5-inch jaw spread must be set in water or greater than five feet above the ground surface. An active cadre of highly trained Conservation Officers and other agency personnel monitor trappers to ensure that laws are followed.
Traps are scientifically tested. Traps used today are different than those portrayed in television programming. Modern traps are small devices designed to target specific-sized species. There are a number of configurations:
Foothold traps come with rubber jaws, offset, or laminated jaws; each is designed to hold an animal by the foot. These features are designed to minimize injury to trapped animals and when used properly, typically allow for the release of captured animals unharmed.
Body-gripping traps are designed to target specific-sized species. Modern traps are tested using International Organization for Standardization designs under the cooperation of the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies and the Fur Institute of Canada. Animal welfare, efficiency, selectivity, practicality, and safety are the measured parameters of traps used today.
Surprising to many is the fact that wildlife managers use the same foothold traps to capture wildlife for collaring projects and relocation efforts.
Trapped species do not become threatened or extinct. Species pursued by trapping interests are abundant on the New Hampshire’s landscape. They include grey fox, red fox, raccoon, fisher, beaver, otter, eastern coyote, muskrat, mink, and weasel. Because trapping is highly regulated, it does not cause species to become threatened nor extinct. Trappers understand the importance of these species in New Hampshire ecosystems.
Trapping is used to re-introduce species and radio-collar study animals. New Hampshire trappers have cooperated with New Hampshire Fish and Game at capturing wildlife for other states re-introducing the fisher. In fact, New Hampshire Fish and Game traded fisher for eastern wild turkeys with West Virginia during the 1960s. New Hampshire trapped fisher have been relocated to Pennsylvania and Connecticut. During 2009 through 2011, trapping techniques employed by qualified person with extensive trapping experience were used to capture bobcats in New Hampshire for radio collaring purposes. These efforts were instrumental in determining bobcat habitat use, home range estimates, and a statewide population estimate.
Trapping provides sustainable commodities. Trapping provides useful nature-derived commodities from our landscape. Products ranging from fur to scents, food flavorings, and food itself are derived from animals taken during the open trapping season.
Seasons are in place when fur is prime and most valuable and the animal’s young are independent.
Trapping is a critical wildlife management tool. Wildlife populations fluctuate within the year, based on weather and food availability. Winter is the most pressing time of year. Trapping seasons occur during fall/winter months and remove individuals when they at their highest annual peak, thus lowering impact of that species on food resources within the locale.
Trapping not only alters competition within a species, it is also used as a wildlife management tool that can alter impacts between competing species and wildlife impacts to humans. For example, American marten, a species that is increasing in New Hampshire, is thought to benefit by fisher management, since fisher can compete with and consume marten.
Monitoring furbearer populations is very important and readily accomplished by using mandatory trapper reports. The data supplied by trappers allows wildlife managers to calculate the number of animals captured per unit of effort (effort is considered 100 trap nights). As a furbearer species increases in abundance, the capture per 100 trap nights increases. As a population decreases, the capture per 100 trap nights decreases. Managers use this index to adjust species seasons or limits to achieve desired effects.
Regulated trapping provides ecological and societal benefits – at no cost. Beaver, also known as “nature’s engineers,” are abundant in New Hampshire and a unique species given their importance to ecosystems and ability to outwork humans. During the winter of 2014-2015, licensed trappers provided 36,996 nights of trapping effort and removed 2,044 beavers, at no charge to society. Wildlife Control Operators (or WCOs – individuals licensed to trap nuisance animals outside the regular trapping season) provided 23,169 nights of trapping effort and removed 1,177 beavers, at a charge to requesting property owners. In the absence of these efforts, beaver populations would increase significantly. Because preferred beaver habitat is largely saturated, dispersing animals often to take up residence in problematic locations. Beaver activities can result in the flooding of private and public property and roads, septic fields, wells, and agricultural lands and they can block dams, culverts, and drainage pipes.
What happened when Massachusetts restricted trapping? Our neighbors to the south have provided a textbook example of the importance of managing beaver populations and the value of regulated trapping as a management tool. In1996, the state of Massachusetts restricted the use of traps by a voter referendum called “Question 1.” Massachusetts’ beaver population subsequently increased – nearly tripled – from a 1996 population of 24,000 to 70,000 animals five years later. The significant rise in beaver numbers caused many issues, including flooding of residential areas, structures, and roadway infrastructure. Consequently, the Massachusetts Legislature modified Question 1 to allow the use of restricted traps and trapping outside the regulated trapping season to control beaver populations.
Why do people trap? Today, individuals trap for various reasons – as part of their cultural heritage, to harvest food and fur, and to help manage wildlife resources. Regardless of an individual’s motivation, New Hampshire trappers are providing a valuable wildlife management and social service to New Hampshire, at no cost to society.