Can Maine Restore Coyote Snaring
By V. Paul Reynolds
As most Maine sportsmen know by now, Maine's coyote control program, which was approved and funded by the Maine State Legislature two years ago, remains dead in the water. Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Danny Martin suspended the program over concerns that an anti-snare organization would bring a civil action against the state. At the time of his decision we were assured that the coyote control program would be restored in about a year when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) granted Maine an Incidental Take Permit.
Although the central issue is supposed to be whether Maine has the right to protect its wintering deer from coyote predation, that concern seems to have been upstaged by a bureaucratic paperwork shuffle between Augusta and Washington. The state is trying to keep from being sued by acquiring a Federal permit that allows some minimal accidental snaring of lynx. The state submitted a draft application for the special permit. The draft was rejected by the Feds as incomplete and totally unsatisfactory. So the state is not much closer to restoring our coyote control program than it was two years ago. In fact, a careful reading of the Feds' rejection letter suggests that we will be mowing our lawns in January when Maine gets permission from USFWS to bring back coyote snaring.
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And with each passing day, the comments from Augusta seem to indicate a fading resolve, a disinclination to fight for the right to control coyote predation. Ken Elowe, DIF&W's Director of Resource Management, when asked by a Bangor Daily News reporter whether snaring is ever going to happen again replied, "I don't know."
Meanwhile, out in the real world beyond the marble halls and mahogany desks, the life and death struggle goes on.This is a critical time of year for Maine's whitetail population. Drained of winter fat and energy and herded together in "yards," deer are easy prey for coyotes. In deer- poor areas of Maine, such as Eastern Washington County, unsupressed coyote packs will bring down weakened deer and eat them alive. Prior to the Martin decision Washington County had an aggressive snaring program that was helping deer recovery.
It gets worse. The Washington County Fish and Wildlife Conservation Club reportedly got a royal butt-chewing from Fish and Wildlife's Deputy Commissioner Paul Jacques when it hosted a weekend Coyote Derby last month. Even Gov. Baldacci lent some rhetoric to the official censure. The awful irony is that the Washington County folks are simply trying to help themselves. In fact, this same sportsmen organization has put together an aggressive deer recovery plan. Sooner than later the Augusta Fish and Wildlife folks are going to have to figure out whose side they are on. Taking the muzzle off state deer biologist Gerry Lavigne, who has orders not to discuss coyotes, would be a worthy remedial step.
By now it must be painfully obvious to Commissioner Martin that his capitulation to the legal threat from the NoSnare activists was a major strategic mistake. Dealing with these extremists is a lot like dealing with terrorists: You never compromise. With or without a Federal permit to snare coyotes, this group - or others like it - will bring civil action. It is the way of things today. Wildlife management prerogatives will prosper or perish in the courtrooms of America!
It is not too late for Commissioner Martin to summon his moral fortitude, tell the NoSnare activists to take a walk and simply do it. Restore regulated coyote snaring. For the commissioner and his staff there is a lesson to be learned from the Montana model.
Like Maine, Montana has lots of coyotes and a recovering lynx population. It never sought an Incidental Take Permit, nor does it restrict snaring of coyotes in lynx habitat. Brian Giddings, State Furbearer Coordinator for Montana, said this in a recent letter to Maine trapper Albert Ladd from Byron..
I received your questions directed at incidental lynx trapping in Montana. State regulations do not restrict any use of traps, snares or hunting in lynx habitat, which is primarily the western third of the state. We estimate that we have quite a few lynx (800-1,000) distributed over about 34,000 square miles, and of that about 20,000 square miles is primary lynx habitat. Coyotes are not a regulated species or furbearer in Montana. They are classified as a predator so we have little control over take of this species. Coyotes can be taken by any method year round. We do not have an incidental take permit from the federal government....
Sportsmen need to put this question to the commissioner and to lawmakers and fish and wildlife policymakers as well: If Montana can legally snare coyotes in lynx habitat why can't Maine?
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program "Maine Outdoors" heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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