Some of the first European entrepreneurs in this region came for the fur. But the fur trade faded as population encroached on habitat and the demand for pelts declined. Now the practice is nearly forgotten, thanks in part to a state constitutional amendment prohibiting nearly all trapping.
Nine years after voters approved that amendment, a group of Colorado trappers would like to see their trade expanded. And that’s creating a big controversy over some small animals.
The Wildlife Commision of the Colorado Division of Wildlife will decide today in Fort Collins if trappers can take mink, marten, long- and short-tail weasels, swift foxes, opossums, grey foxes, ringtails, and western spotted skunks. The Colorado Trappers Association proposed in February that new trapping seasons should be opened for those furbearing animals that are currently protected. That drew the criticism of several conservation groups in the state, and 14 of them have joined together to oppose the trappers’ proposal.
“We strongly urge the Commission to deny the Colorado Trappers’ Association’s petition,” wrote Sinapu, a Boulder-based organization, in a document sent in March to the DOW.
Further fueling the controversy is the DOW’s unofficial reversal of opinion on the matter. The DOW’s staff opinion, sent to the Wildlife Commission in March, was that the commission should “maintain the status quo” and deny the trappers’ proposal. Then on June 30 two days after the public-comment period ended the DOW released the “Analysis of Furbearer Seasons: for Colorado Wildlife Commission.” In it, the organization offered a way for the Wildlife Commission to allow the new trapping seasons.
After the release of the furbearer analysis, the conservation groups were less than pleased with the DOW.
“This issue has been going on since February, and then at the 11th hour, they make this end run after the public comment period had ended,” says Wendy Keefover-Ring, director of the Carnivore Protection Program at Sinapu. “We see the analysis as a way around good public process.”
Despite the furbearer analysis, the DOW’s official position still is to maintain the status quo, according to DOW Public Information Specialist Tyler Baskfield. The Wildlife Commission will take into account all the information, including the staff position and the furbearer analysis. The information also includes a lot of public input.
“We have received quite a bit on this issue,” Baskfield says. “The majority of it is coming from e-mail. We have received more than 200 e-mails in the past couple months.”
The amendment approved by voters in 1996 outlawed any type of live trapping for recreation or profit. It did allow trapping for agricultural protection, human health and safety, valid scientific research, and animal welfare. The amendment didn’t mention box traps, a form of bait trapping the trappers use today for recreation and profit.
There are several animals available for box trapping, including coyote, raccoon, muskrat, beaver and bobcat. The CTA is proposing the new seasons because the members believe they have firsthand evidence that the animal populations could sustain it.
The trappers are also proposing to provide specimens to the DOW to “re-start the data stream.” That means, through the new trapping, there would be more data to research the animals and their ecological impact in Colorado.
“When you’re out trapping for muskrat, you see mink all the over the place,” says Marv Miller, vice president of the trappers’ association. “When you’re out calling for coyote and red fox, you always get grey fox to come up to you.”
The trappers also contend their is a possible financial benefit with the new animals. In their June 30 furbearer analysis, the DOW supports that theory and states that “opossum, mink, pine marten, long and short-tailed weasels, and swift fox populations can sustain some level of harvest from trapping or small game hunting.” According to that document, for instance, grey foxes have averaged $16 a pelt for the past two years. Mink pelts can reach as high as $19 each.
The conservation groups argue that the financial gains of trapping the animals would be outweighed by several factors, including the impact on wildlife watching in Colorado. They cite a 2003 DOW report that found wildlife watching generated $1.3 billion for the Colorado economy. They also point out the increased personnel costs of monitoring the new seasons.
After all of the information provided since February, the Wildlife Commission will finally decide today on the trappers’ proposal. And what it decides could alter the future of a practice that has been a big component of Colorado’s past.
By Zak Brown, Camera Sports Writer