The state is proposing changes to its trapping regulations, including one designed to protect birds of prey.
This Department of Environmental Conservation rule would require trappers to cover carcasses used as bait in their traps. Trappers use dead beaver and other carcasses to attract coyotes, bobcats, fishers and martens to their leghold traps. The animals are attracted by the odor of the dead animal. The problem, when trappers don’t cover their bait, is that birds flying overhead may spot the carcass and find themselves trapped after they attempt to feed on it.
The new regulations would still allow trappers to use carcasses, which attract other animals through their odors, but would keep them out of sight from above.
Late last fall, a bald eagle and a red-tailed hawk were both injured in leghold traps. The bald eagle trapping incident took place near Sacandaga Lake in Hamilton County on Dec. 6. In that case, a trapper found the bald eagle dangling upside down in a hemlock tree about 15 to 20 feet in the air and about 100 yards from where the trap was originally set.
The bird had a trap attached to its rear talon and was unable to escape on its own after getting tangled in the tree. The bald eagle had apparently been drawn to the area of the trap by a dead beaver carcass used to bait coyotes, DEC Forest Ranger Tom Eakin said in December. Eakin helped rescue the bird after being alerted to the incident by the trapper who discovered the bird. The eagle survived.
A change in regulation could help avoid such situations, even though reports of this happening are rare.
“It’s just something we had to stop,” said DEC wildlife biologist Gordon Batcheller. “It wasn’t quite good enough to talk about it. We thought we had to go forward with a regulation.”
Batcheller said the DEC had been working on the regulations prior to the bald eagle incident and that the agency was already aware there was a problem with carcasses used in traps when they weren’t covered. He said the DEC gets reports of eagles getting caught in traps about once a year.
“That’s one too many per year. We don’t want any of them being caught or injured,” Batcheller said. “No trapper wants these species caught or injured.”
Bill Ulinski, a trapper from Rainbow Lake, said that what happened with the eagle was an isolated incident and that most trappers already cover their bait.
“I think everything they’re doing is very responsible here,” Ulinski said. “I didn’t come across anything that they are proposing that is going to make it more difficult for me because I’ve been doing some of this stuff for years anyway. And my baits are covered. I can’t see anyone object to having their bait not visible.”
The requirement to have bait covered is one of a number of changes to the trapping regulations being proposed. Other changes include allowing trappers and small game hunters to keep roadkill if the dead animal is in season.
The regulations would also expand the range in which pine martens may be trapped, although trappers will still have to get special permits for the martens.
The DEC also proposes to allow trappers in the northern part of the state to trap for land species such as foxes, coyotes and raccoons until Feb. 15. The season currently closes Dec. 10. Trappers would be required to use only live-holding devices such as foothold traps and box traps during the extended trapping period to protect bobcats, fishers and martens.
John Rockwood, president of the New York State Trappers Association, said his organization worked closely with the DEC over the last two years to make these changes to the regulations and was largely in favor of them.
“We’re pretty much totally in agreement,” Rockwood said. “There are a couple small changes to the wording that we would like to see but nothing that we are really against.”
Photo by Tom Eakin
An eagle was accidently caught in a leghold trap on Dec. 6, 2009. A change in state trapping regulations would help prevent such occurrences, even though they are considered rare. The eagle survived.