In my last column on this subject of trapping furbearers, I made the statement about Newton’s theory, that every action has an opposite reaction also applies to our habitat or web of natural and man-made life. It is those reactionary events or apparent results from the lack of trappers now seeking these furbearers (compared to yester-years) that I will try to explain from my perspective in this second part of the story.
To say that “times have changed” in our natural world from even the late 1970s is like saying that technology “has increased a bit” in those same years -- a gross understatement. Driverless automobiles, watches that are computers, computer operated surgical instruments, and the list goes on. In our natural world, things are always changing and adapting to whatever forces exist; be it lack of food, lack of cover, lack of water, too much water, lack of competition.
When my father was young, there were barely any whitetail deer in the Midwest. Now, there are so many deer you have municipalities hosting bow hunts inside their city limits to stem the destruction of overpopulation. So, what changed? What caused deer to explode in population? The same could be said for wild turkeys. They barely existed in Wisconsin when I was a youngster, now you can't shake a stick without hitting one, it seems at times.
Management is one thing that has changed. Agencies were focused on creating conditions where these animals thrived. Farming methods changed, land practices of all sorts from the timber industry to wetland management changed. People’s attitudes toward subsistence hunting changed, as well as cattle and hogs took over the countryside and made it less necessary to hunt for your protein.
Dare I say, too, that people not trapping for their clothing as much also had many impacts on our natural world. Balance. Everything in nature is about balance, or a better term we use in teaching ecosystem management is “carrying capacity.“ How much of one species or more of flora or fauna can exist in a certain amount of habitat? Some species it is easy to figure -- use squirrels, for example. If you have a piece of property and there are no trees on said property, I am doubting you will have any resident squirrels on your land. Plant mast (nut) trees, and all of sudden you will have squirrels. Like in the movie “Field of Dreams," if you build it, they will come.
Now, to get back to trapping. If you have property where you trap, you are affecting the balance of your ecosystem. Reducing predators like raccoons and coyotes will usually mean an increase in other species, like pheasants, quail, rabbits, grouse and deer, species that these predators usually eat, either the adults, the young, or their eggs. If you have ever trapped, you have caught something in your trap unintended, it is just a fact. From skunks and opossum to feral cats, these unintended targets were not really welcome, but were dispatched just the same by these indiscriminate steel traps. It kept opossum and skunk populations in check, not allowing these egg-eaters and nest-robbers to decimate ruff grouse, duck, geese, and pheasant populations.
Flash forward to today. Yes, there is habitat loss by turning forests and grasslands into farm fields. Yes, there is pollution and run-off and other means choking out marshes and river systems. Yes, development of our cities has sprawled all over creation in amazing ways in certain areas. All these things have contributed to a changing natural world. To me, in my humble opinion and observation over my relatively short life so far, the loss of trappers has had as big an impact in many areas as almost any of these factors.
Many of these animals I have mentioned are now seemingly out of control in their populations: specifically raccoon, skunks, opossum, and coyotes in the Midwest. Drive down any roadway this time of year and see the carnage of these animals having unfortunate encounters with automobiles; it looks like road kill has taken over some stretches of roads. Hunters with trail cameras see dozens and dozens of these critters roaming everywhere -- even in cities. They spread destruction to crops and food sources; wreak havoc by damaging buildings; spread diseases in their waste; and lay waste to many species of animals, (especially ground nesting birds like pheasants, grouse, quail and waterfowl), by eating their eggs and young.
Many studies and many schools of thought exist on this subject and can be found in periodicals and on websites maintained by natural resource managers. Opinions range from these critters having “little to no impact on these desirable species’ populations” to “we need to eradicate all these vermin now.” I happen to fall in the middle of this debate. I have seen first-hand how some of these species that seem to be everywhere have impacted other species of game and non-game wildlife in my little world, and I can compare that to what I witnessed as an outdoorsman in my younger years.
The comparisons are dramatic, just as the comparisons in the realms of human population expansion and the rise of technology are dramatic. You can see it for yourself on small and large-scale habitats, if you just pay attention. If you wish to manage your habitat and see how you can affect your property, let a trapper go after some of these species like raccoon, opossum and skunks and see if you notice things change in populations of other different species, as well.
Just because you have not gone to school to get a diploma doesn’t mean you cannot be a scientist or wildlife manager and tinker with your environment. You just might be surprised by the results and please do not look on trappers as some sort of thoughtless, careless or bored participant. Until you have walked a mile in their shoes -- I mean waders -- you just might be disparaging an active wildlife manager at work, trying to help strike a better balance on our ecosystem.
Thanks for reading, and enjoy nature whenever and wherever you can.