AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has ordered the halt of all above-ground trapping in the northern half of the state in response to the death of two Canada lynx that were killed in traps this fall.
According to a DIF&W press release, effective immediately, lethal traps that are commonly used to catch fisher and pine marten will not be allowed above ground or snow level in 14 of the state’s 29 Wildlife Management Districts.
Those districts include all of Aroostook County, as well as the northern sections of Somerset, Piscataquis, Penobscot, Hancock and Washington counties.
The new regulations were passed through an emergency rule process, and will be in place for 90 days, according to the DIF&W. That will protect lynx through the end of this year’s trapping season, which concludes on Dec. 31.
The DIF&W, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others will revisit the matter at the conclusion of trapping season to formulate rules for the 2015 season, according to DIF&W spokesman Mark Latti.
Lynx are protected in Maine under the federal Endangered Species Act. The state’s action was triggered by a contingency provision in the DIF&W’s incidental take plan, which was developed in order to respond to unintended deaths of Canada lynx resulting from trapping overseen by the department.
That incidental take permit was signed on Nov. 4.
“We are taking immediate measures to drastically reduce the probability of having another lynx killed in a trap,” James Connolly, the DIF&W’s director of the bureau of resource management, said in the release.
According to the incidental take plan, if two lynx were killed by traps that were set legally, new rules would be established to prevent more lynx from being trapped.
According to the release, the first lynx was killed in Oxbow Plantation, northwest of Houlton, and the incident was self-reported by the trapper. A second lynx was found by a game warden in St. Croix Township, also northwest of Houlton. The warden determined that the trap had been legally set, and notified the trapper. That incident took place on Sunday.
According to the DIF&W, the two incidents are the first two documented trapping deaths of lynx since 2006. Since 2009, 26 lynx were killed by motor vehicles.
Latti said there are 3,141 licensed trappers in Maine.
Laury Zicari, supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Maine Field Office, said the state has acted properly by shutting down most trapping in areas where lynx live.
“We commend Maine’s swift action through these regulation changes to address this issue, demonstrating that the permit framework is working,” Zicari said in the release.
The president of the Maine Trappers Association said his group is working with the state, and supports their efforts.
“The Maine Trappers Association has always supported department efforts to protect lynx,” Brian Cogill said. “Trappers understand and believe that these measures are currently needed, and support these immediate protections for lynx,” he said. “We look forward to working with the department as they develop long-term regulations to protect lynx for the 2015 season and beyond.”
According to the release, Maine’s lynx population was estimated at between 750 and 1,000 in 2006. The DIF&W is planning to conduct another lynx population survey this winter.
But not all trappers agree with the official MTA stance.
Brian Donaghy, 31, of Unity has been trapping since he turned 18, and often traps in the vast woods between Jackman and Allagash. He says the data that was used to focus the incidental take plan is outdated, and that there are far more lynx on the landscape today than there were eight years ago. He also maintains that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service did not prepare a proper species assessment on lynx before they were listed as endangered.
“When I started seeing lynx tracks [in the woods] was around 2004, 2005, 2006,” Donaghy said. “It was, ‘There’s a lynx track, that’s kind of neat.’ In 2007 and 2008, I started seeing lynx, and started seeing tracks daily. Now, you drive down the road and I see tracks every mile or so. It gets more and more.”
Donaghy said his passion is trapping for pine marten, and says he has never incidentally trapped a lynx in the process.
And while some might assume that there have been far more than two lynx killed by trappers and simply not reported, Donaghy said he’s confident that’s not the case.
“Of all the trappers I know — there’s bad apples in every sport, whether it’s hunting or fishing — I don’t picture them not reporting,” Donaghy said.
Donaghy said that traps are often set in locations that aren’t hidden from view, and often they’re visible from a dirt road. In addition, he often finds human footprints in the snow near his trap sites, and knows others have seen what’s there, or not there. He also knows that people would be likely to report any lynx that they’ve seen in a trap.
“It would be taking a huge, huge risk not to report that, and I just don’t know anybody that would fail to report that,” he said. “[If you were caught], it’s not just losing your trapping license for a year. It’s a federal offense.”
Another provision of the trapping shutdown announced Tuesday night: in Wildlife Management Districts 7, 14, 18 and 19, lethal traps smaller than 7½ inches may be used on the ground if the trap is placed within a lynx exclusion device, which keeps the endangered animals away from the trap itself.
Also, the use of foothold traps that are set above the ground will not be permitted in any of the WMDs affected by the new regulations.