Maine trappers need to face challenge of lynx

Posted Nov. 21, 2008, at 6:53 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:01 a.m.

Maine trappers exist in a world that many don’t see and perform tasks that many others don’t want to think about. Until, that is, a certain critter makes people want to think about those tasks.

When your local beaver builds an addition to his house, it’s cool. You take the kids to check the place out. You take pictures. You watch, amused, as the aquatic engineer spanks the water with his flat tail, warning you to leave.

When that same loveable beast dams a nearby culvert, your driveway washes out, and your lawn turns into a pond, you’re not amused. You’re not chuckling.

And you may be looking for your nearest trapper.

I don’t trap. Never have and probably never will. I know some who do, and I respect their woods knowledge and tenacity.

Trapping isn’t easy work, folks. And working a trap line isn’t your basic nature hike.

You’ll surely get tired. You’ll likely get wet. And during a Maine winter, miles from home, an unexpected dunking can have catastrophic consequences.

Trapping’s not for everybody. It’s not for me.

And partially because trappers exist on the fringe of most peoples’ knowledge or understanding, I can’t stop believing that Maine’s trappers are at a real crossroads.

News this week that a Canada lynx was found dead in an Aroostook County trap was unfortunate. It was bad for the lynx population, and perhaps worse for the trappers.

Last year, in response to a lawsuit, rules were enacted that sought to protect lynx by mandating trap configurations and locations.

Now, another lynx is dead. Local and national wildlife advocacy organizations are getting involved.

And the perception in some circles will be that Maine’s trappers are all about the kill, all about piling up pelts and making their money, natural resources be darned.

That’s not fair.

The trappers I’ve met over the past decade have largely been hard-working, honest Mainers who have found a way to eke out a living in the woods they love.

Trapping can play a valuable role in wildlife management efforts, and trappers are often called upon to deal with nuisance complaints from homeowners who have found that their wilderness retreats are a bit too wild for their liking.

But trappers have an image problem that even the best public relations firm would be hard-pressed to cure.

They trap animals. Furry animals. Often cute, furry animals.

And they kill them.

Doesn’t sound attractive, does it?

Unfortunately, that’s reality. There’s no glossing over it.

You can talk about wildlife management, the carrying capacity of a plot of land and the impact too many of a certain animal can have on the habitat as a whole, but to many, you’re simply attempting to justify an activity they can’t stomach.

And that’s why the challenge that faces trappers is a complex one.

Some folks are against all trapping, all the time. Some folks feel that the activity serves a valuable purpose.

And plenty of others — a majority, I’d wager — simply don’t care one way or another … as long as they don’t have to think much about it.

Add an endangered species to the mix — an endangered species that is sometimes caught in traps that aren’t targeting them — and the number of people paying attention rises dramatically.

Rest assured, those new arrivals at the debate won’t be sharing an attitude toward trappers and trapping that’s nearly as benign as it has been.

Some will tell you that the lynx issue is one that has been manufactured by a group of wildlife activists who oppose all trapping.

There’s some truth to that assertion: There are undoubtedly many who will oppose trapping, and find ways to express that opposition, no matter what incremental laws are adopted.

Those people, and those activist groups, are not the ones that should worry the trappers.

The trappers should instead be worried about the opinion of previously uninvolved Mainers who have lived contentedly with an abstract concept of trapping but who may now hear things about the activity that they can’t tolerate.

Trappers need to do whatever they can to make sure that lynx are protected. Trappers need to make sure all of their peers understand how important it is to do so.

Because fighting an animal rights group in court will be nothing compared with fighting a citizen-driven referendum on practices that people can say are harming an already endangered species.

Unfortunately, one trapper, whether either careless or unlucky, can have an effect on how an entire state views the activity by inadvertently killing an endangered lynx.

Perhaps it’s a pipe dream, but a trapping season with no such incidents, with no such commotion, would go a long way toward silencing those who would just as soon ban trapping entirely.

Complaining about the complainers will do the trappers no good at this point.

Results are what count. And results are needed.

The trappers themselves may be the only ones who can produce those results before the as-yet silent majority is asked to make its opinion known.

Sugarloaf is open

Driving past Jenkins Beach on Green Lake the other day, there was plenty of shell ice at the outlet to Mann Brook. Walking the dog has become a nippy proposition, morning or night.

It’s hard to believe that just a week ago I heard two co-workers discussing their (albeit dwindling) local golfing options.

Summer is a memory. Winter seems imminent.

What’s a Mainer to do?

If you’re a skier, that answer is easy.

Sugarloaf/USA in Carrabassett Valley has announced that the resort opened for the season on Friday.

According to a Sugarloaf press release, the recent low temperatures and an offseason upgrade to its snowmaking system have aided the resort in its efforts to open before natural snow begins to fly.

Sugarloaf officials plan to open with skiing and snowboarding on five trails which cover 1,750 vertical feet. All trails are serviced by the resort’s SuperQuad chair lift.

According to the news release, the resort’s snowmaking capacity has been increased by more than 20 percent and allowed for simultaneous snowmaking on all five of the trails slated for opening-day skiing.

New water pumps, snow guns and pipes are up and operational.

“We invested a lot in our snowmaking system here this summer, and I think we’re seeing the payoff already,” Rich Wilkinson, Sugarloaf’s vice president of operations said in the release. “The new equipment has allowed us to make more snow faster than ever before, and as a result we should have some of the best opening-day conditions we’ve seen in a very long time.”

That’s good news for ski enthusiasts, who tend to share an outlook that I’ve adopted over the years: If it’s going to be cold, it might as well be snowy.

Opening-day skiing and snowboarding will take place on Tote Road, Lower Tote Road, King’s Landing, Candyside and Pinch.

And according to tradition, the resort’s annual Tin Mountain Roundup will be held today and Sunday.

To take part, all you’ve got to do is donate three or more cans of food to the drive. In exchange, you’ll be able to purchase lift tickets for only $25.

Those canned goods are used by local food pantries to meet demand during the holiday season.

According to the news release, skiers and riders will notice more than $5 million in offseason upgrades at the resort.

In addition to the snowmaking improvements, new terrain parks have been built, there’s new on-mountain signage, the base lodge has been upgraded and Bullwinkles Restaurant has been expanded.

Always a favorite of many Maine skiers, Sugarloaf has given us all a reason to head to the mountains and take a new first look at Maine’s second-tallest mountain.

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