By Phyllis Austin, Maine Environmental News (www.meepi.org). 12/16/02
Despite the risk to Canada lynx, the state’s coyote snaring policy for the winter of 2002-03 again does not ban the controversial practice in the designated lynx study area or other places where there are signs of the "threatened" cat. It also has eliminated last year’s limit on the number of snares that can be set in that special area by each trapper.
The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) contends that its new policy guidelines are "reasonable and necessary to protect lynx from incidental take during coyote snaring activities." When asked how removing the restriction on the number of snares jibes with IFW’s position, wildlife division director Mark Stadler was surprised there was no limit.
"We’ll take care of that," he said on Dec. 14. There was a limit of no more than 30 snares in two locations per snarer in the 2001-2002 rules that applied to the lynx study area – 14 whole townships and three partial ones in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway region. There, in the last four years, lynx researchers have documented 67 lynx – 31 adults and 35 kittens – and made important discoveries about the animal’s habitat and food needs.
One IFW regional wildlife biologist, Riche Hoppe, said in a Nov. 5 memo the snare "tending" provision in the revised guidelines, in effect, guarantees that a lynx or almost any other critter will have no chance of survival and release. The danger has increased because snarers are mandated this season to start using a cable snare that is supposed to kill its victims quickly.
The NoSnare Task Force and Maine Audubon Society say the new policy doesn’t offer the level of protection they believe is warranted for the lynx, which was placed on the federal endangered species list two years ago. These new [IFW] regulations would certainly ensure that any animal – from an otter, hare, raccoon, bobcat, fox or fisher – caught in a snare would die with no chance of release," says Daryl DeJoy of NoSnare. "Most young deer caught would also be killed, although larger deer or moose might still escape."
IFW, under pressure from deer hunters and trappers, rejected its biologists’ recommendations last year to retain and strengthen the limited ban on snaring imposed in 2000 to protect lynx and other non-target animals. IFW officials made it clear then, as well as this year, that if the snaring program is to be eliminated or drastically changed, it has to be done by legislative directive, which approved the coyote control program 20 years ago.
To wit, the two groups will take their case to the legislature in January. NoSnare will offer a bill that would end all snaring of wildlife, and Maine Audubon's bill would end coyote snaring only. In addition, a new group of wildlife activists plan to sue IFW early in 2003 to stop the snaring program. The snaring season for the winter of 2002-2003 began Dec. 1 and goes to the end of March.
In addition to animal rights and humane issues, the opponents of snaring argue that the program is one the state, with a $1 billion revenue shortfall, can’t afford. While billed as an annual $40,000 cost, the snaring program may actually have a price tag twice that amount when indirect costs, such as enforcement, monitoring and time and travel of IFW personnel, are counted. IFW is presently collecting financial information from its various regional offices to try to determine the full costs.
Last year, the snarers killed 564 coyotes, and the state paid $72 for each carcass. There are 400 people trained to snare, 119 of them fully certified and the others partially certified. Fifty-four snarers were active last winter, according to Mark Stadler, director of IFW’s wildlife division.
Information surfaced in the fall of 2001 about the agonizingly slow deaths of snared coyotes, prompting snaring ban proponents to strengthen their resolve against the program. Snarers commonly used a wire neck loop to trap coyotes. But IFW’s mammal group leader Wally Jacubas found that 94 of the snared coyotes, or 63 percent, likely didn’t die within the five minutes expected but were clubbed to death, shot or died of brain hemorrhaging from slow choking.
Only one lynx is known to have been snared accidentally in the last 12 years. But if a snarer reported killing a lynx, he would be asking to be prosecuted. The stiff federal fine and potential jail time a lynx killer would risk is what makes biologists and activists speculate that no one would report an accidental taking.
Consider the bald eagle snared accidentally last season. The dead eagle, also protected by law, was dumped, along with the carcasses of two dead coyotes, on Penobscot tribal land. U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) special agent Eric Holmes said a tribal member found the eagle and coyotes in March on an island in Olamen Stream in Greenbush.
The eagle was sent to the federal forensic lab in Oregon where a necropsy was done. The report said the strangulation death was consistent with snaring, and Holmes agreed with the finding, given his field and investigative experience. "It was a mature eagle and had a lot of other injuries," he said.
Eagles are attracted to bait that snarers can use to lure coyotes. IFW’s new snaring guidelines still allow the use of bait but recommends it be avoided for eagles’ sake. "If used, [the bait] must never be placed within 50 yards of a snare," the guidelines say. "Bait must be placed in forest openings exposed to view [where eagles prefer to land], and all snares set more than 50 yards from the bait and 10 yards behind the edge of any opening." For the first time, the policy defines a forest openings as "log landings and yards, frozen watercourses, clearings, or other unobstructed openings in the forest canopy."
The direct target of the snares is coyotes preying on deer in northern wintering areas. There, deer populations are low anyway because it’s the northern end of their range, and their woods habitat has been decimated by heavy logging by industrial landowners. Maine Audubon’s Jody Jones believes that IFW should be spending the money allocated to the snaring program on improving habitat for deer. That, she asserted, would do more to keep deer alive for the hunt than snaring coyotes, a species that bounces back from human attempts to reduce its population.
Maine Audubon’s Jones, after comparing last year’s guidelines with the revised rules, said the new ones do impose some additional limits on snaring protocol and tighten the criteria for snarers’ training. But, she noted that snarers who have full certification are "grandfathered" and therefore don’t have to meet the new training criteria.
IFW has mandated this year that snarers switch from wire loop snares to state-of-the-art cable snares with a 50-pound cam lock that is supposed to kill an animal faster. Jones said she has asked the department more than once for documentation that those devices are more effective than wire snares, but IFW "has not provided that." The cam lock makes the cable move only one way, and it has a break- away device that releases larger animals.
Jones remains troubled by the provisions on tending snares and increased demands on regional biologists’ time to provide snarers logistical support and oversee them in the field. She notes that changing snow depths change the height of the snare, increasing the risk to non-target wildlife. That’s why she believes, like some IFW biologists, that tending should be required every 24 hours.
Jones has identified in the guidelines "11 tasks" the regional biologists will be responsible for in connection with the snaring program. "It will mean an even greater drain on [department’s] resources," she said.
A ban on snaring in the township where lynx were first discovered was imposed by IFW in the winter of 2000 on the recommendation of biologists. But it lasted only that one season due to pressure from the Maine Trappers Association and the Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine.
Asked why the lynx study area doesn’t warrant a ban, given the national importance of the lynx work going on there, Ken Elowe, director of IFW’s Bureau of Resource Management, said, "For all practical purposes, the lynx study area does not have snaring." He doesn’t think lynx "are in extreme danger from snaring. Over the years, watching how trapping and snaring have gone, I don’t think snaring has a huge chance to take [lynx]."
What the department’s lynx study team thinks about the new snaring policy’s risk to the secretive cats is unknown. Commissioner Lee Perry instituted a gag order to prevent the staff – except Ken Elowe – from making public comments about the snaring policy.
But two of the seven regional biologists wrote memos to their supervisor that commented on the risk to non-target animals. Biologist Hoppe focused on the three-day tending allowance, which, he said "serves no purpose for the avoidance of snaring a lynx." A 24-hour tend, he said, would leave "the possibility of coming up on a lynx in a snare that may still be alive where release is possible; otherwise in 72 hours, no matter what, the animal is going to be dead due to exposure."
Regional biologist Chuck Hulsey of Region D said, "There is an inherent conflict between the use of faster killing snares to deal with humane issues and any chance of releasing an animal alive."
Still, Elowe sees the guidelines as minimizing the possibility of catching lynx. "You can never be 100 percent sure you have eliminated the possibility," he said. Elowe mentioned that IFW is working with FWS on an incidental take regulations that will be part of a lynx recovery plan – a plan mandated by the threatened listing.
The new policy asserts that ongoing trapping harvests and coyote snaring activities "have a minimal impact on lynx populations." The agency notes its legislative mandate to control coyotes in deer wintering areas in the Round Pond and Chase Carry – both in the lynx study area and where numerous deer have been killed by coyotes. "We are also aware of and take seriously our responsibilities to protect lynx, a federally threatened species, from incidental take . . .," the policy says.
The guidelines, the policy states, "are a ‘good faith’ effort to protect lynx and wintering deer by implementing Animal Damage Control techniques that employ traditional hunting and trapping activities, which the department will closely monitor, within the lynx study area," the policy promises.
The policy says that all snarers will be advised by the regional wildlife biologists of the special concern for the status of lynx, as well as bobcat, which looks very similar to a lynx; that special care and caution must be used when using snares; and snares will not be set in any location where the snarer observes lynx or bobcat sign; and that the biologist must be advised immediately of the presence of lynx or bobcat activity – or a captured and/or killed animal.
The department is implementing a "tiered" response to coyote control activities within the lynx study area. The first response to deer predation problems will be the regional wildlife biologist directing hunters into the lynx study area to kill coyotes by shooting them over bait, running them with dogs and shooting them during the chase.
If that response fails to substantially decrease predation, the biologist, in consultant with the director of IFW’s wildlife division, may deploy and direct snarers into the lynx study area. The regional biologist, the guidelines say, will be aware of the most current location of radio-collared lynx (there are 19 collared lynx at the moment) and will not deploy snarers into areas that are in the immediate vicinity of known lynx. Also, the biologists will keep the lynx study team aware of the location of coyote snares in the study area.
All snarers working in the lynx study area will be accompanied by an "observer" when tending their snares to monitor and document any incidental take of lynx or other non-target species, the policy says. The Animal Damage Control Program will hire the observer and cover the related salary and expenses, and the observer will work under the supervision of the regional biologist.
The wildlife division director "reserves the right to require and implement any other provisions that he deems necessary to protect wintering deer and lynx in the lynx study area," the policy says.
Outside the lynx study area, five-mile radius circles have been established around places that lynx have been documented in the last 10 years. IFW will advise snarers that no snares will be set in any location where there is a sign of lynx or bobcat, and snarers are required to immediately report to the regional biologist the presence of lynx or bobcat activity and/or captured dead or alive.
Biologist Hoppe said in his memo that Jo Powers of the Maine Trappers Association (MTA) "would be willing to take all incidental or non-target species and skin and tan" them for IFW at no cost to the department. Then the skins could be used in schools or other education settings, he said. "MTA would rather have these animals used in this way than have them eventually destroyed or buried by the department," Hoppe advised.
Maine's War on Coyotes, by Ted Williams, Audubon Magazine.
Maine Group Forms to Combat Coyote Snaring