Trapping and the MN Walk-In Access Program: points to ponder.

Post date: Sep 12, 2014 4:37:39 PM

Critique of the commentary "Trapping Walk-In Access areas: incorrect assumptions and points to ponder."

Original commentary by Tim Spreck, President, Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance (MOHA).

Outdoor News, Minnesota, 9/12/2014.

Critique by Scott Slocum, 9/12/2014 (indented, in this colored font).

Over the past several months, an organization calling itself Sportsmen Take Action has gotten considerable coverage from the outdoor media on its position regarding the legality of trapping on Walk-In Access acres.

This group has claimed the DNR has run afoul of the law that governs this program and that the broader outdoor sporting community is supportive of its position. It further claims those who support the DNR on this issue are somehow limited to a very small group of radical outsiders.

On behalf of the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance and the hundreds of thousands of sportsmen and women we represent, it is time to clear the air regarding the legally incorrect assumptions that this group makes and the true position of the member groups that MOHA represents.

The first incorrect assumption that Sportsmen Take Action makes is that trapping on Walk-In Access areas is not legal. The statutory language that established the program makes very clear that trapping is not allowed as a part of the WIA program. This is pretty straightforward and acceptable to the legislators and stakeholders who advocated for this important program at its inception. In other words, you can walk onto these acres and hunt, but you cannot walk in and trap.

To put it objectively, Sportsmen Take action has interpreted the law; not made an "assumption" about it. If the law seems at this point "straightforward" to those who advocated for the WIA Program in 2012, that's not the way it seems to others, and probably that's not the way it seemed to other legislators who voted for it in 2012. The fact is that there is room for more than one interpretation, because the Statute was not clearly defined on this point.

For the benefit of the reader, following are the relevant excerpts from MN Statute 97A.126: "walk-in access program (WIA)":

Subdivision 1. Establishment. A walk-in access program is established to provide public access to wildlife habitat on private land for hunting, excluding trapping, as provided under this section. The commissioner may enter into agreements with other units of government and landowners to provide private land hunting access.

Subd. 2. Use of enrolled lands... (e) Any use of enrolled lands other than hunting according to this section is prohibited...

The decision about whether a landowner wishes to trap or give permission to trap on his or her land is not covered under the WIA program, and these rights are held solely by the owner as a right of ownership. If these rights were to be removed, and given the small fees paid per enrolled acre, most property owners would more than likely pass on this program, to the detriment of our community and the many folks who hunt these lands. Why would any landowner give up his or her rights to legally control predators, scavengers, and varmints for the few dollars per acre that this program pays?

The truth is that if they farm or want to protect the waterfowl and game bird nesting areas on their land, they would have little incentive to participate.

The commentator does not provide a dollar figure, and does not answer his own, rhetorical questions here. His goal seems to be to imply the following assumptions (which in some or all cases might well be false assumptions): 1) that there would not be a reason for a landowner to give up certain rights in exchange for income from a lease agreement with the WIA Program, 2) that a WIA agreement would prevent trapping during other periods of time (other than the walk-in hunting seasons), 3) that a landowner would not be able to continue effective wildlife-management operations from portions of the land that were not under WIA agreement, 4) that the necessary wildlife-management operations would require trapping. Further assumptions: 5) that lethal control, by trapping, is required for "predators, scavengers, and varmints," 6) that there is a need to control scavengers by any lethal method, and arguably, 7) that given the use of such menacing-sounding descriptions of wildlife, we should all be very afraid.

The second assumption that this group makes is that dogs will be killed if trapping is allowed on WIA acres. This position is supported by a highly sensationalized attack on trapping that is designed to bring about strong anti-trapping emotions. Many of these claims are not based on current factual evidence and distort the facts by labeling incredibly safe traps as "tongue catching" and "dog killing" just to scare dog owners into a sympathetic position. The truth is that we have no record of a dog ever being killed in a trap on WIA acres, and numbers of dogs killed in traps has generally been declining to the point of it being statistically zero.

This position is supported by the reality that dogs are unnecessarily killed by lethal trapping and snaring that is done without proper precautions in or adjacent to recreational and residential areas where dogs are legally and properly off leash. If it were true that "many" of the claims made by Sportsmen Take Action were not based on "current, factual evidence," then it would still be true that all the rest of them were and are.

For example, it is entirely possible for a dog to trigger a "dog-proof raccoon trap" that (inconsistent with its name) has been fitted with a two-way trigger (pull or push) and baited with meat.

For example, body-gripping traps do kill dogs; and the danger is perhaps at its peak while hunting dogs are pursuing or flushing small game in areas where lethal trapping and snaring are done without proper precautions to avoid incidental catch.

Proper precautions are specified in trapping ethics, but are sometimes disregarded because they are not yet required by Minnesota law.

Next, consider that there is a concerted effort on the part of the trapping and general outdoor sporting community to work diligently to remove threats while still allowing the trappers the tools they need to continue with their work. Trapping is not just a hobby or pastime — it is a vital and important management tool that most recognize as critically important to maintaining balance between ourselves and the wild critters encroaching on our livestock, crops, property, and huntable wildlife.

Here, the commentator attempts to praise the "general outdoor-sporting community" (whatever that undefined term might encompass) without offering any support. The truth is that trapping can be a vital and important wildlife-management tool, but that it can also (legally) be very dangerous and destructive. The difference is currently a matter of trapping ethics that, as discussed above, are not currently enforced in Minnesota trapping regulations.

In similar fashion, the commentator seems to assume that an environmental "balance" will always be achieved in a humane and responsible way; while he fails to define what he means by "balance," and while he fails to acknowledge that some landowners will have radically different (and sometimes inhumane and irresponsible) ideas on what they perceive to be a proper "balance." For example, the classically inhumane and ecologically-irresponsible practice of artificially lowering predator populations in order to artificially increase prey populations for the benefit of hunters (who hunt the prey).

The commenter then attempts to sidestep the important problem of human encroachment on, and destruction of, wildlife habitat--by blaming the wildlife for the human/wildlife conflicts that often ensue.

Is there still more work to be done? Absolutely, but it needs to be done in a way that preserves all of the positive effects trapping provides while continuing to find ways to protect all of our canine companions. Through partnerships between groups like MDHA, the DNR, the Minnesota Trappers Association, and the Minnesota Forest Zone Trappers, any and all concerns are being addressed in a rational and straightforward way that is showing results while not demonizing the good folks who trap responsibly and legally.

The commenter outlines the work that needs to be done--good! But then, unfortunately, gives false credit to the organizations that are, in fact, preventing that work from being done.

Lastly, we should all have a serious conversation within our various hunting and sporting communities as to whether we want to open ourselves to the broader animal rights groups who lurk at our borders, waiting for an opportunity to pounce. They have tried to take away our guns, our ammo, our artificial bait, and our traps numerous times in the past.

Allowing sensationalized and unfair claims to emerge from within our ranks gives these folks the opening they need, and they will certainly be watching and waiting for any way to capitalize on the situation. In the past, it has been our steadfast resolve and unflappable unity that have saved us. Let's not allow a divide based on emotionally charged assumptions within our ranks to provide that opportunity to our common enemies.

Ah, the fear of the mythical "slippery slope." Although it's true that the ARs are lurking in wait, it's not true that all of their successes will "slide in" one after another, once one of their issues has reached the slope. It's true that wildlife-conservation groups, veterinary groups, animal-protection groups, and animal-rights groups have tried and partially succeeded in restricting the use of toxic lead ammunition and fishing tackle. It's true that some extreme animal-rights groups will never quit trying to put a general prohibition on recreational and commercial trapping. It's also true that firearms-regulation groups have tried and partially succeeded in restricting certain types of firearms ownership (certain types of firearms by certain types of owners). However, those issues are not the subject here; and each issue has its own, distinct voting constituency. In other words, if they had the votes, they would have been more successful; but they didn't and they weren't.

As an issue becomes more and more popular, and as voters become better and better informed, its chances of success grow. The issue here is "Do we, as a society, want to allow unnecessary dog deaths in order to allow trapping that doesn't even pass trapping ethics?"

This issue is becoming more and more popular. Voters are becoming better and better informed. This issue will succeed while more radical attempts to "take away our traps" will continue to fail. This issue is nowhere near the "slippery slope."