November 5, 2013

Rising pelt prices mean more traps on Maine trails

The trend may have contributed to two incidents in which dogs got caught in coyote traps.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Fur trapping is increasing in Maine as the value of pelts climbs, which may have contributed to two incidents in which dogs got caught in coyote traps.

click image to enlarge

A trapper sets a device in the ground that's equipped with rubber jaws designed to capture an animal without injuring it.

Associated Press File Photo

click image to enlarge

An eastern coyote is photographed near a leghold trap in this 1995 photo, before being released back to the wild.

The number of trapping licenses issued by the state climbed 21 percent in the past two years, from 2,236 in 2010 to 2,708 in 2012. The licenses cover trapping for fur-bearing species including beaver, fisher, bobcat and otter.

Prices for furs – including coyote – have increased an average of 70 percent over the same period.

Coyote trapping has drawn attention since an 84-year-old man shot his dog on Oct. 24 after it got caught in a coyote trap in Newfield and bit him when he tried to set it free. Alberto Carva said the frightened animal bit his hand and wouldn’t let go, so he had to shoot his favorite rabbit hunting dog.

Trapping advocates and state officials say that incident is an anomaly. More often, they say, the dog is released uninjured, as happened Sunday in Topsham.

Linn Caroleo was walking her silver Labrador retriever, Yogi, on the cleared right-of-way under transmission lines off Route 201 when his paw was grabbed by a coyote trap.

“It was pretty violent right at first,” she said. “He was trying to get loose, yanking on it, and I thought, ‘Oh, Jeez, he’s going to break a paw.’ But I put my arm around him and made him get closer so it was not so taut.”

Fortunately, she said, her dog didn’t bite her.

Caroleo tried to free her dog by pulling the jaws of the trap apart, but only managed to get her thumb stuck in it, she said. She called for help on her cellphone with her free hand.

Afterward, firefighters showed her how a trap is disarmed – by pulling down on release levers on either end of the semicircle formed by the closed jaws. Neither Caroleo nor the dog required medical attention, though Caroleo – who writes children’s books about her dogs and their misadventures – said she had her dog’s leg X-rayed to be sure.

The owner of the traps removed the half-dozen in that area of the transmission line. Police said he had set them the previous day.

MODERN TRAPS ARE TOOTHLESS

Modern traps for coyotes or foxes are designed to capture but not injure animals. They don’t have teeth on the jaws, which sometimes have padding or are made of hard rubber and leave a gap when they are closed.

“The traps you’re talking about, I’ve used those probably 40 years and had every one of my fingers caught in one of these traps,” said Bruce Martin of Biddeford, an experienced trapper who teaches courses on trapping. “I still have all my fingers.”

The state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife uses the same type of traps for catching lynx, which are then tagged and released. The state does not track how often dogs or other species get caught in coyote traps.

Dogs get caught in coyote traps because the species are so similar. The traps must be well hidden but in places where coyotes might step, often along trails or the edges of fields – where people walk their dogs.

“When you put out coyote traps, you can’t put a sign saying ‘Coyotes only, step here,’ ” Martin said.

The traps can’t be marked because that may scare off their intended prey. And people have intentionally triggered traps or even taken them, trappers said.

MORE HOBBY THAN PAYCHECK

After a severe drop-off 20 years ago, trapping is rebounding as prices for pelts rise. The latest prices vary widely, from $112 for bobcats to $3 for weasels.

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