DIF&W to revise trap rules

Posted Nov. 24, 2008, at 8:20 p.m.

State officials said Monday that Maine’s trapping rules need to be clarified in order to help prevent additional Canada lynx from becoming ensnared and potentially killed in traps set for other animals.

The changes were proposed after one of the federally protected wildcats was found dead in a trap in northern Maine last week. Critics of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife are citing the lynx’s death in their courtroom push for more restrictions on trapping.

DIF&W officials wrote in court filings that the trapper who accidentally caught and killed the lynx in Aroostook County did not follow the letter of the law when setting his traps.

The individual will not be issued a citation because he thought he was complying with the state’s trapping regulations and because he willingly reported the catch to authorities, court documents said.

But DIF&W officials said Monday that they plan to clarify exactly how and where certain types of traps can be set in lynx territory as a result of the incident. But attorneys for the two groups suing the state over inadvertent lynx trappings called the proposed changes inadequate.

The adult lynx was found Nov. 17 in a trap set for smaller game in T12 R8, east of the town of Portage in Aroostook County. In a picture accompanying reports filed in U.S. District Court, the lynx can be seen dangling with its right front paw caught in a trap set nearly 5 feet off the ground.

A subsequent investigation of the incident revealed that the Conibear or “body-gripper” trap had been set on a small tree more than 4 feet above the ground, as required under revised rules enacted last year in response to an earlier lawsuit over lynx trappings.

But the trap was placed only inches away from much larger trees easily scalable to a lynx. Additionally, the lower part of the curved tree was not angled enough to potentially deter lynx from attempting to scale the tree. State rules require trees or poles on which traps are affixed to be at least at a 45-degree angle.

“If, as we believe, the lynx at issue here accessed the trap by climbing the large cedar tree and reaching across into the trap, the rule must be amended to prevent such a situation from occurring in the future,” Kenneth Elowe, director of resource management at the department, wrote in an affidavit to the court.

Elowe said the department would change the rules to explicitly state that any tree or pole to which a trap is affixed must be at least at a 45-degree angle to the ground at all points. The new rules, which Elowe said would be adopted before next year’s trapping season, would also address how close the trap could be to adjacent trees.

But Lynn Williams, an attorney for the Wildlife Alliance of Maine and the Animal Welfare Institute, responded in court filings that changing the rules for next season will not protect lynx this year. The 2008 trapping season ends Dec. 31.

Williams also wrote that allowing trappers to check body-gripper traps once every five days, as currently permitted, is too long to release animals alive. She also cited one of the investigating officers’ reports that claw marks indicated the lynx might have climbed the smaller tree.

“Dr. Elowe’s affidavit fails to mention this different interpretation of the incident scene and the implications of this difference of opinion,” Williams wrote.

The lynx’s death, although accidental, will undoubtedly play into the current battle in U.S. District Court.

The Wildlife Alliance of Maine and the Animal Welfare Institute have asked the court to suspend some trapping in all of northern Maine until the state receives a special permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service covering “incidental take” of protected species.

The groups filed the lawsuit earlier after eight lynx were reported caught in traps last year. All eight were released alive.

Judge John Woodcock is expected to decide soon on the groups’ request for a temporary injunction against DIF&W.

Lynx are medium-sized cats with large, fur-covered paws that allow them to pursue their primary food source, the snowshoe hare, in deep snow. They are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Biologists estimate there are approximately 500 lynx in Maine, which is the only state in the eastern U.S. with a self-sustaining population of the cats.

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