As a born and raised southern New Hampshirite, I have seen the increased population here in the Granite State expand exponentially. Especially within the last ten years or so, housing development and new pavement has sprouted up across the land. Anyone who has lived in this “neck of the woods” for longer than 15 years can attest to the spike in traffic, housing, and extended travel times to reach destinations.
I’ve noticed the impact this population “progression” has had on the land especially through trapping for fur during the fall and winter months. Trapping territories that once spanned 100+ acres have now been reduced to 10-50 acres, and in some cases, have vanished altogether, as miles of untouched forest have long been bought and sold to make way for new homes. Some areas where I once had an endless selection of trap sets to make have now been abandoned due to encroachment from hikers, walkers, and domestic pets. Here in New Hampshire, our trapping regulations state that each trapper must have written landowner permission to trap the property. I am particularly fond of this regulation, as it takes the guesswork out of having to gauge whether or not the property is suitable. I can simply discuss with the landowner what type of sets I will be making, and get an idea from that owner whether the property is open to public or recreational use by others. I can then place dog-proof traps or avoid certain areas based on what information I can gather. Over the past few years, I can’t tell you how many people I have run across on my large-acre parcels that are just “out for a weekend stroll”. 99% of the time, the landowner is completely unaware of these visitors, and the “visitors” don’t seem to be too concerned with gaining permission – the new motto that seems to have been adopted is “if it’s wooded and there aren’t houses around, I’m allowed to walk through it without consequence”.
Over the years I have been able to use some of these deforestation issues to my advantage. I have a large acre parcel I trap where the neighboring property has been clear cutting timber, and at first I figured my trapping activities in that area were pretty much done for. Upon further inspection and talking with other trappers, I realized I might be able to use this land change my advantage. With the clear cutting to the north, and me setting traps along the southern edge, any passing critter is liable to follow the wood line, thus creating a funnel straight into my trap line as animals follow their natural travel ways. Think of it as if you were driving down the road and saw a detour sign, you would follow that detour to continue on your way rather than risk plowing through the closed road and construction equipment. Clear cutting can sometimes be beneficial for hunters, as deer, moose and coyote are slightly more welcoming of clear cutting as new growth sets in – this is only if the clear cutting doesn’t progress into housing developments. Although these scenarios are a real benefit when tracking animals, they aren’t a normal occurrence, and nine times out of ten for me, once an area has been developed, it is no longer viable for the animals that once inhabited it, and in turn, no longer viable for me.
As a trapper, you have inadvertently wedged yourself into the natural order and food chain. If an area gets wiped out by logging, the larger percentage of smaller vertebrates, such as woodchucks, rabbits, and such, have moved on – sometimes temporarily, and sometimes permanently. With the “food source” gone, the predators and larger animals have also moved on with their prey, thus in turn forcing you to target your “prey” elsewhere as well.
With population development comes the inevitable headaches of increased traffic. I’ve seen quite a spike in road-killed critters over the years around here. I can’t tell you how many times I have driven by a mashed up critter thinking “man, what a waste”. Busy roads in between wildlife travel corridors and food sources, as well as areas where wildlife has been flushed out due to development also cause what I can only identify with as wanton waste.
I always get a chuckle out of Animal Rights groups and their constant battle with Hunters and Trappers alike. If they put one tenth of that energy and donation money into human population awareness and conservation groups, they would probably save tens of millions of critters, and help sustain habitats in the process. When a landowner kicks the bucket and his family decides to sell off his 300 acre parcel of untouched forest, put your donation money toward preserving that habitat rather than fighting lawsuits with hunters – but I digress, more of that rant coming soon.
On the flipside of this controversial coin is the Animal Control business. While I have seen my fur trapping territories dwindle due to overpopulation, my Wildlife Control business has skyrocketed, as new homeowners can't understand why that skunk that’s lived there for the past five years has suddenly taken up residence under their new porch. This particular issue I haven’t quite wrapped my head around yet. In one hand, I am ever grateful that I have the business and calls to support myself interacting with nature. On the other hand, I can’t help but come back with the “what did you expect?” look, when a client is upset about a woodchuck chewing up the new garden. Furthermore, I have seen an influx in animal related calls in more urban areas. I can trap more raccoons and skunks in a heavily populated city suburb in one week, than I could for months on a wilderness trap line. Animals are highly adaptable as long as that animal’s population doesn’t expand too greatly. Why fight for a meal in the woods when you can get free supper out of the countless trashcans and dumpsters in the urban environment. These ideas ring true lately even with predators. Why would the coyote and fisher fight for a mouse or vole in the forest when he can pick off an unsuspecting cat in suburbia? It’s not long after the missing cat signs go up before I get the phone calls for predator control.
Examples of otherwise "solitary" wilderness animals turning up in urban meccas is becoming increasingly more common.
I suppose that much like the animals, the trapper will also be forced to adapt to his or her surroundings. Much like the animals I target, I too have become more adapted to urban trapping than long-line wilderness trapping in recent years. Trading washed out roots for culverts, downed trees for bridge underpasses, and grassy trails for tire ruts. Just because I have adapted doesn’t mean I have to like it. I think this world would be a little more “grounded” if we all saw a little more green – in one way or another!