It’s a long way from happening and certainly no guarantee, but after six years of uncertainty, lawsuits and questions, Maine may become the first state to be given an incidental take permit for trapping by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Public hearings last week were one of the final steps in the service’s review of Maine’s application for the permit. It would assure trappers that if they incidentally take a Canada lynx in traps, they won’t be breaking federal laws or be sued.

Endangered species such as Canada lynx are protected from “takes,” which include harassing, harming, killing or trapping. The lynx was listed 10 years ago, and the questions around the state’s active trapping program have been swirling for that long. Since 2000, Maine has been sued twice by animal-rights groups for lynx that were caught in traps.

So as the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife moves speedily toward a resolution on its incidental take permit application — because legislative pressure has been put on USFW to finish its six-year review — Maine’s trapping program could go from a point of contention to a unique exception.

And regardless where you fall on the issue, there is no denying this practice is a part of the state’s history and culture.

Last fall, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston said as much when it affirmed what a U.S. District Court judge in Bangor decided in November 2009: that trapping should continue in Maine.

Those who don’t like trapping don’t like to hear that. And, quite frankly, trappers don’t like to talk about it. In fact, both parties will probably be angry at this column.

But as today’s Outdoors feature shows, Maine’s trapping community is a small piece of the North American fur trade pie, but a long-standing piece nonetheless.

A Massachusetts fur buyer said it is barely worth his gas money up here, so small is our fur trade.

But Guy Johnson said he travels to Maine because he’s been doing business with trappers here for 35 years and, well, he’s a bit sentimental for Maine’s trapping heritage.

And as small as our fur trade may be, Maine could distinguish itself among trapping states if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gives it an incidental take permit for Canada lynx.

Trapping goes on across the country and is robust in Canada. All you need to do is go to the flashy website for the North American Fur Auctions which has been in existence since 1670.

Today the website lists locations in just about every state and province where small-time trappers can drop their wares. NAFA makes it easy because the international fur market is huge. Countries you’ve never heard about in Eastern Europe and Asia buy furs.

Personally? I’m a Gore-Tex and fleece girl. And if it’s a decent winter day, nothing beats sheep’s wool. Fishermen’s sweaters are old-school, waterproof and warm. And the sheep kind of dig it when they loose their coats.

But it does strike me as interesting that this ancient world that existed before any of our predecessors got here continues today even as it gets regulated, legislated and litigated.

And if trapping in Maine gets the rare federal wildlife permit, it will send a loud and resounding legal message: This practice is a part of our culture.

Even then, just like 400 years ago, you probably won’t hear trappers talk about it.

Attempts the past few years to catch up with Maine Trappers Association Legislative liaison Skip Trask, a former game warden and deputy commissioner for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, ended two years in a row with the apology: Sorry, off trapping in the northern Maine woods.

Maybe in the next several months if Maine gets the country’s first trapping incidental take permit, Trask will be a little easier to reach and maybe trappers will be a little more vocal.

But probably not.

The whole reason they say they enjoy their activity is because it gets them away from people and they don’t have to talk, just listen to nature.

So it strikes me as especially interesting that the longtime president of the trappers’ association has stepped forward recently with some openness, certainty and on-the-record boldness in saying:

“I think Maine’s going to get it.”

Dana Johnson said it with no reservation at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s public meeting in Gorham on Thursday night.

Maybe that’s because as controversial as trapping is in Maine, it’s part of our culture.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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