Snaring Controversy Rooted In Politics
By Bob Noonan
After reading the recent article on coyote snaring by Phyllis Austin in the MaineTimes I felt compelled to respond..
The article deals with a number of issues around the coyote snaring
program of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W).
Primarily, however, it discusses the "inhumane" nature of snares.
The MDIF&W's recent necropsy of snared coyotes revealed that some coyotes were
not killed quickly, and there was some swelling of the neck and head.
Snares were therefore declared inhumane. Of course the press has been quick
to sensationalize this conclusion, with the Humane Society of the United
States (HSUS) leading the pack. The HSUS is basically an animal rights
organization that considers all trapping, hunting, and fishing inhumane,
and admits to working for end all these activities.
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Admittedly, there is a problem - with some types of snares. But there are
other types that are extremely humane, capable of killing coyotes so fast
that they barely disturb the surroundings. Snares, when used properly, are
accepted as very humane across the United States and Canada.
The main difficulty with the snares used on these Maine coyotes is that
they had "stops" on them, devices that keep the snares from closing to a
diameter less than 2 to 3 inches. The purpose of the stops is supposedly to
allow eagles and deer snared accidentally to pull out of the open loop.
But because the stops keep the snares from closing completely, many coyotes
are not killed quickly. It is the stops that are inhumane, not the snares
Trappers have known of this problem since early in the snaring program, and
have tried repeatedly to correct it. Bill Mackowski of Milford has been
actively involved in the snaring program since its inception, and has been
rewriting policy and pushing for reform since the beginning. According to
Mackowski, theMDIF&W has been repeatedly advised that the stops were a
problem. Yet the Department has chosen to do nothing about it, leaving the
decision to mandate stops up to the discretion of biologists, most of whom
have no snaring experience. So the use of these devices continued, and
trappers were repeatedly told in training seminars that they had to use
Ironically, the stops are not really needed to protect either eagles or
The two eagles caught in the 1980s, in the first experimental years of the
snaring program, were caught because of a basic misunderstanding of eagle
behavior. Bait was placed in heavy brush to attract coyotes, and snares
were set on approach trails to the bait. Eagles are carrion eaters, and
quickly spotted the bait. But the big birds need an open area to land, so
they landed in nearby clearings and walked in to the bait, and hit the
snares on the way in. No one realized just how far an eagle would walk to
food. One walked 50 yards through thick brush to get to the bait.
This problem was immediately corrected by placing bait out in open areas,
and setting the snares in trails back in the brush. The eagles landed right
on the bait and never entered the brush. It is now mandated in the snaring
policy that bait be placed in an open area, to allow the birds to land and
leave without walking. Trappers are taught this in training seminars.
How effective has this been? Since those first two eagles, there has never
been another one snared. Not one. There should be no concern about
eliminating the stops because that might increase danger to eagles. Snares
are simply not a danger to eagles.
What about deer?
Other states and provinces that allow snares have solved the problem
without stops, by using breakaway devices on the snare locks. These are
designed to break open and release the animal when enough force is applied.
These devises have been refined and tested until they are very consistent.
The accepted norm is a breakaway device that lets go at between 175 to 230
pounds of pressure. This easily releases deer, but holds coyotes.
A trained trapper will avoid catching deer in the first place, by avoiding
deer trails. Occasionally a deer will encounter a snare, but due to the
snare's height the animal usually hits the snare with its chest, pushing it
aside. Infrequently, a deer will poke a leg through and get caught. In this
case the breakaway device quickly releases it.
However deer do die quickly when neck caught, even with a breakaway device.
Fortunately, deer rarely get caught by the neck. There is one exception to
this. If a snare is set under brush or a pole or log, deer will crawl under
and get neck caught. Anyone tracking deer on snow has seen where they've
gone under some amazingly low stuff, rather than go over or around.
Experienced trappers prevent neck catches by making sure the snare is set
in a more open area in the trail, supported by a wire that is easily pushed
aside by the deer.
Ironically, some snare instructors have actually
taught that the proper way to avoid deer is to place a horizontal pole over
the snare. This practically guarantees a neck catch. Experienced trappers
have protested this technique continually, to no avail. When Mackowski
discovered that a certain instructor was teaching trappers to do this, he
complained repeatedly to the Department and to others in the snaring program. But
possibly because the instructor was a retired MDIF&W person, the Department made no
effort to correct him, and he continued to teach a snaring method that was
almost guaranteed to produce neck catches on deer.
Mackowski believes firmly that the MDIF&W's refusal to correct snaring
procedures, despite constant requests from experienced trappers, has made
the present problems inevitable.
Another problem with snares is the use of antiquated snare locks such as
the old washer lock, and so-called "relaxing" locks. These locks exert
little or no pressure against the animal's neck unless the animal is
pulling against the snare. These locks prevent quick kills, and often
produce swelling in the head and neck.
Again, experienced trappers have complained to the IFW about these locks,
but Department has never seen fit to forbid them, or require the use of
Modern locks such as the cam-lock and others kill very rapidly because they
lock tight and do not relax.
A recent improvement on the cam-lock, the Amberg lock, has an inch-long
spring on the end that maintains pressure against the coyote's neck even
when the animal isn't pulling. The pressure is enough to cut off both air
to the lungs and blood to the brain, and the animal passes out almost
immediately, with little or no choking. The Amberg kills so rapidly that
coyotes hardly fight it; they just seem to roll over and die. Trappers
commonly find the snare site barely disturbed, if at all. Government tests
have shown the Amberg to be the fastest-killing lock commercially
available, killing in minutes or less. As trappers discover its efficiency
and humaneness, it is rapidly becoming the most popular snare lock on the
Another very fast-killing snare system is called the Ram. Invented by
Canadian Bruce "Bert" Bertram, this system uses a two-armed spring about as
long as a man's forearm. The spring closes the snare noose when the coyote
triggers it, and holds it tightly enough against the animal's neck to shut
off both blood flow and air, like the Amberg. No lock is needed since the
spring holds the loop closed. In different sizes the Ram is used
successfully on animals ranging in size from mink to wolf and even black
bear. The Ram system kills slightly faster than the Amberg and is extremely
popular in Canada, and is catching on in America. However the spring is
expensive, and less portable than conventional snares.
In short, there are some excellent snares available that kill extremely
quickly, with no suffering or swelling.
The problems with the Maine snaring program have been created by how it has
been administrated, not by the snares themselves.
Another complaint against snares is that they are non-selective, and will
catch any animal that comes along.
Any experienced trapper will tell you that non-target catches can be almost
completely avoided by proper selection of the set location, and snare loop
size and positioning.
Fisher, for example, are not caught in snares because they hunt the thick
brush and don't run the trails that coyotes use. Bobcats, lynx, and fox can
be almost completely avoided by keeping the bottom of the snare loop high,
from 14 to 16 inches off the snow. These animals go under the loop, where
the long legged coyotes poke their heads through.
As for the threat to lynx, I feel this is deliberately exaggerated. Since
the snaring program began, only one incidental lynx has been caught, and
that was 11 years ago.
Which brings up the question of whether or not the lynx is actually
endangered. When animal rights activists and conservationists first tried
to place the lynx on the endangered species list, wildlife biologists
across America protested, pointing out that there have never been high lynx
populations in America anyway, because the northern states were at the
extreme southern end of the lynx's natural range. Although lynx are
extremely abundant in their natural habitat in Canada and Alaska, there
have never been many in America. Maine, for example, has never had more
than a few lynx. And there never will be many, no matter how much we
Federal listing of the lynx as an endangered species was accomplished by
political pressure, and it enabled activists to immediately close large
areas to recreational use, to "protect" an animal that never existed in
high numbers there to begin with.
The lynx is still a potent political tool. Witness the recent discovery,
widely publicized, that seven state and federal biologists were found to
have planted hairs from domesticated lynx in national forests in Washington
State, in an attempt to create evidence that a small resident wild
population existed. The biologists were hoping to create another spotted
owl, so they could close the area to commercial and recreational use, to
"protect" a lynx population that didn't even exist.
The Maine lynx population is under no threat from snares. An accidental
catch every 11 years or more will not hurt a population that has always
been sparse and scattered.
Another erroneous objection to the snaring program is that it doesn't
really help deer that much, because it's necessary to remove 70% of the
coyote population to control numbers.
Statewide control of coyote numbers is admittedly impossible. But
anti-snaring proponents deliberately ignore the fact, proven over and over
and over again nationwide, that concentrated, pinpoint coyote control by
trained trappers is extremely effective in reducing coyote predation on
wildlife and livestock in specific areas. Snaring by predator control
agents in western states has been recorded as reducing coyote predation on
sheep from 25% to less than 2%, and the positive effects on deer and
antelope numbers are overwhelmingly obvious.
In 1986, Quebec's Gaspe Peninsula had a healthy deer herd of around 15,000
animals. A series of hard winters, combined with deforestation and
increasing coyote numbers, decimated the deer herd. By 1992, helicopter
surveys were able to locate only about 500 deer. A coyote snaring program
was initiated, and in three years 80 trained trappers took 1,500 coyotes
from key deer areas. As of 1999, the deer herd was over 2,000. It is still
growing, as a result of focused coyote control. Coyote numbers have been
kept down by a concentrated, consistent snaring program.
Coyotes don't hurt deer populations when deer are plentiful. But it has
been absolutely proven that if deer numbers have been badly reduced by
severe winters or other factors, coyote predation is a key factor in
keeping the deer herd from recovering. That's why coyote control is so
important in areas like northern Maine, where deer populations are
extremely low and struggling to regain their former numbers.
What about giving the coyote big game status, and depending on sports
hunters to control numbers? Sports hunting has little effect on overall
coyote populations. The only effective control is a snaring program,
operated by trained trappers, focused on specific problem areas.
Snaring has been legalized in many states, and more states allow it every
year, as they discover it is an effective, humane coyote control method,
safe to pets and other wildlife. Consider heavily populated Ohio, which
legalized general, statewide snaring of coyotes over five years ago. Since
the program started, there has not been one single complaint involving the
death of a pet or domestic animal in snares. And complaints of coyote
predation on livestock have decreased noticeably.
Snaring, done properly, is a very humane and efficient way to control
coyotes, with a positive benefit to the deer herd.
Politics have created the problems blamed on snares.
Bob Noonan has interviewed numerous trappers, predator control
agents, and wildlife biologists on the topic of coyote control and snaring.
Coyote Snares Humane?
Editor's note: What follows are selected excerpts from a story written by Phyllis Austin and published in The Maine Times:
Death or shot. "This validates our long-held notion that snaring is an extreme-
ly cruel and inhumane method," said Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States in Washington. "They languished in snares for hours and days." Animal rights activist Cheri Mason of Sunset predicted the report will renew efforts to "end this completely wasteful and cruel activity."
The data has stirred intense debate among IFW biologists and staff over suffering and killing, cost and the realistic impact of coyotes on the deer herd. The controversy is raising questions not only over management and politics at IFW but also at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is responsible for enforcing the Endangered Species Act. Agency opponents of snaring believe that good science is being sacrificed because of pressures brought by northern Maine snarers, the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, the Maine Trappers Association and the Legislature. Henry Hilton, IFW's animal control officer, said the agency has been "cowed" by snaring advocates into supporting the activity.
The necropsy report was ordered by IFW's Mammal Group leader Wally Jakubas after he noticed a number of coyotes with swelling in the head and other injuries. "It got my curiosity up," he said. Snarers were asked to turn in the bodies of coyotes for study. "I explicitly said I wanted all animals so we could have a complete survey," he said. A University of Maine student examined the carcasses for Jakubas, skinning the animals and taking their skulls off. The data came from coyotes snared in 19 towns and townships.
"Bad snaring and edema [swelling] became evident," Jakubas said. And the data was collected from certified snarers - "supposedly the best guys out there, not the slob guys," he said. Certification means the snarer has proven to IFW that he can competently kill a coyote.
The report described the condition of the dead coyotes in grisly detail: head swollen; head swollen possibly shot on right side of body; neck swollen. Of the total animals snared, "normal" and other injuries accounted for 36 coyotes, or 38.3 percent.
Jakubas explained that the snare
is supposed to humanely kill the trapped animals by suffocation within three to five minutes, with the coyote becoming unconscious sooner. But the "stops" prevent the snare from totally closing. "It's not enough to asphyxiate, but it does cause constriction in the throat," he said. "It restricts blood going through the jugular vein. But the carotid artery keeps pumping blood in the head, with nowhere to go," he said. "The capillaries burst" - spreading jelly-like blood clots.
Consistent throughout the draft of the proposed legislation is language aimed at pleasing the snaring community and its lobbyists. The recommendations acknowledge that the snaring policy has been inconsistently applied region by region and directs all personnel to be familiar with policy and relay that information uniformly. "The department will facilitate and encourage coyote snaring among the public, to be carried out by volunteer and paid individuals without reluctance by any department personnel," the recommendations said. "All individuals who wish to set snares and take coyotes during the winter months will be given the opportunity to snare coyotes within the procedures in the snaring policy."
Biologists' opposition to allowing snaring to expand in December and March is based on the movement of deer into wintering areas that may make them more vulnerable to being snared at the onset of winter, and the lynx's travel patterns in spring to find a mate. Only fully certified snarers would be allowed to operate in March "to ensure the highest level of protection for non-target species," the report recommended.
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