The Future of the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge.

I’m proud to introduce the first of what I hope will be an on-going series of guest writers on the Live Free And Trap blog. Rob Hatch comes with decades of hunting and trapping experience in the north woods of New Hampshire. Being a skilled and passionate conservationist; Rob, as well as myself and countless other outdoorsmen in the region have mounting concerns over the current state (and future) of the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge, the Great North woods of both New Hampshire and Maine, and the intentions of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service within our borders.

*Due to public office, the views expressed herein are solely those of the author, and not as a representative of any public body or organization to which he is a member.

As the Umbagog National Wildlife refuge now triples its size, in expanding its boundaries, it also encroaches on the historical and cultural traditions of life in the Great Northwoods, and serves an injustice to the species it fails to manage. Both the NH Fish and Game and Maine DIFW have asked the USFWS to open refuge lands to furbearer trapping consistent with their respective state seasons. Those agencies maintain that trapping is a traditional, historic use in the area, was established well before the refuge was created, and was allowed by previous owners. They also promote trapping as a wildlife-dependent activity that is an effective tool for managing furbearer populations, and regulating a balance between prey and predator species to the overall benefit of wildlife populations. The Feds at the USFWS ignored this science based approach and opted for the politically correct approach, tabling the proposed use, citing a need for more red tape.

In 2009, the Feds skirted the controversy, stating the Umbagog Refuge expansion would need an independent Furbearer Management Plan to supplement its Stewardship Plan, and would take 3 more years to compile. Meanwhile, it’s been twice that long and the Umbagog forest is managed with blind devotion in a “let nature take its course” and “hope for the best” mentality, where its wildlife management tactics seem more inspired by reruns of the movie “Bambi”.

What’s right for the forest; proper conservation management based on science, with seasons and bag limits assessed by qualified professionals, has made way to appeasing the squeamish and fairy tale perspective of PETA advocates hoping and dreaming to one day hug a wolf.

With the growing concern for Lynx in the North Country, the Maine Dept of Fish and Wildlife conducted an extensive study. Two Lynx were accidentally killed by trappers, twenty-six were killed by automobiles, and the major source of mortality for 85 radio-collared lynx tracked over a 12-year period in northern Maine was predation by fisher. To address the “Save the Lynx” crusaders, (rather than the Lynx) the USFWS went after the trappers. Keep in mind; it was the trappers (who kept the fisher population in check) that helped the Lynx population to rebound in the first place! But the ban on trapping appeases the feel good wants of unrealistic animal rights advocates. Meanwhile, the fisher didn’t get the “Love thy Lynx” memo, and are back to killing off the Lynx that the politically correct USFWS pretends to save.

The point is, there’s a great divide between “loving” wild animals, and the more difficult task of actually “caring” for them, with the USFWS fumbling, and stumbling in the gap between the two, Before the USFWS is permitted to continue its ½ million acre land grab in NH and Maine, it needs to prove it can responsibly and soberly manage the land and wildlife it already has. It needs to produce its (past due) Furbearer Management Plan for the Umbagog Refuge, and one based on the reality of the wilderness, not the appeasement of the delusional anti-hunter, or the unrealistic, hoping to reestablish the wilds of the 17th century.

Yes, there are derelict trappers out there, just as there are rapists, drunk drivers, and overly emotional animal rights advocates. They are all in the minority. Most trappers I know live closer to the earth, and have a much deeper understanding and appreciation of the woods and ways of wildlife that many people have never known or experienced. Without being judgmental, a photographer or a hunter needs to get wildlife into a 200 yd circle to meet their ends; a trapper has to get it to step in a 2-inch circle. And most all the trappers I know will read the signs of the forest, pull traps, and leave behind for seed if they feel a toll has been taken on the game they seek. (Without being told) They understand that the woods are sustainable resources and do what’s right by the woods and wildlife in it, out of respect for the species, in order to maintain the woods thriving for seasons and generations to come. They move to experience their heritage and legacy, living by the code of the wild, not turn it into a petting zoo. Anyone who believes trapping is “cruel” has never seen a whitetail deer eviscerated in its tracks, dragging its intestines the last 40 ft of its life while being eaten alive by a pack of coy-wolves. That’s nature. The trapper soberly accepts it and is a part of keeping it balanced. I would much rather put a bullet in the head of an animal, than allow “nature” to take its course and watch it die of starvation due to unregulated growth beyond the carry capacity of its environment. That’s the job of wildlife management, and the trapper is a fundamental tool in the process. Here, the USFWS toolbox at Umbagog is empty.

The USFWS has its eyes on expanding its Umbagog boundary to a half a million acres here in northern NH and Maine. This should not be allowed until it accepts its responsibility for the proper management of its wildlife, which it currently does not. In 2009 the USFWS stated it would create a Furbearer Management Plan for the Umbagog Refuge within 3 years. It’s now been six years in neglect of that critical process.

As a Forest Advisory Board Chairman of one the largest Conservation Easements in NH, I can relate to all the diversity of public pressure imposed upon wildlife management decision makers. Certainly, there is a tightrope walk between proper wildlife management and the emotions of the public; Regardless, the duty of care remains firmly with the best interest of the given wildlife population as a whole, and not the measures of public sentiment. Here, the Umbagog Wildlife refuge comes up short. Establishing a complete and comprehensive Wildlife Management Plan should be a first and foremost priority at this junction, before allowed any further activity or expansion. We owe this duty of care to the wildlife on this growing property.

In review of the Umbagog Refuge management plan, I was stunned and dumbfounded to discover its Furbearer Management Plan did not exist, and is six years past due. This inaction is akin to driving a tractor-trailer while blindfolded. It is all unfathomable to comprehend as a manager of a Conservation Easement. However, those paying attention (as well as taxes) to the antics of the USFWS will recall. In the late 90's there was a very major push to reintroduce wolves to NH. The State of NH met the push with a shove of their own, immediately passing law to make it illegal to place a wolf on NH soil.

 

(05/07/1999) – “Defenders of Wildlife denounced the New Hampshire Senate today for voting to prohibit wolf reintroduction in the Live Free or Die state, working to cut off any further discussion of the issue. Reacting to last year’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) announcement of an impending plan to study potential wolf restoration in the northeast’s Great North Woods, the state Senate passed HB240 by a fourteen-to-nine vote. While the bill allows for natural recovery, it bans any human assistance in returning wolves back to New Hampshire habitat.”

(Defenders of Wildlife press release 05/07/1999)

 

 

There, the USFWS seemed to abandon their crusade, But, did they really?

Or just take a new approach?

According to whistleblower Jim Beers (former USFWS Chief of National Wildlife Refuge Operations), after Congress denied funding for his agency to carry out the Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Project, the agency acted illegally. Beers states that USFWS misappropriated Pitman-Robertson funds, trapped wolves in Canada, imported them, and released Canadian Wolves into Yellowstone National Park, this, without any authority, and in direct defiance of Congress.

Meanwhile in the east, USFWS has been quietly buying houses and burning them to the ground in the vast expansion of the Umbagog Wildlife Refuge in Northern NH. The refuge has increased its size from 21,000 to 60,000 acres in recent years with mention of plans to (soon) create nearly 1/2 a million continuous acres of Federal Refuge in northern NH and Maine. (Partnerships with Plum Creek and others are in the works.)

It is easy to envision the day when the USFWS now "discovers" a breeding pair of wolves has "somehow" miraculously made its way into this 1/2 million acre wolf haven in northern NH and Maine; Along with a host of federal regulations in the surrounding area, when all of Coos, Oxford, and Franklin Counties in Maine and New Hampshire are declared "critical habitat", and off limits to the NH and Maine way of life and peace of mind we had after eliminating the wolf in the first place.

I've been scratching my head as to WHY an allegedly reputable and competent wildlife manager would ever shirk its duties, and balk at establishing a comprehensive Wildlife Management Plan for the Umbagog Refuge which would/should undoubtedly include a detailed trapping program, and now I am no longer scratching my head.

*Rob Hatch is an avid outdoorsman, a Conservation Commissioner, a Registered Guide, and a NH Forest Advisory Board Chairman.