On Wednesday, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife issued an emergency rule that further delineated legal practices by the state’s bear hunters. The impetus for that decision: Wildlife officials had become aware of a device they are concerned could harm federally protected Canada lynx.
“A manufacturer came to us with a device, wondering about its legality for use in Maine,” said Judy Camuso, the DIF&W’s wildlife director. “We reviewed it, and we were concerned that people may modify the device and develop something that could possibly catch a lynx. So although we recognize the risk is very, very low for an impact to lynx, we have to be protective according to our [Incidental Take Permit].”
Trapping in parts of Maine where lynx live is governed under that federal ITP, which was finalized in 2014 after years of study and work. The permit allows the state’s trapping program to continue so long as special care is taken to protect lynx, which are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.
“[The device in question] was like a long metal tube that an animal would reach into,” Camuso said. “We recognized that it was very unlikely that there would be any impact to lynx by this device or a similar device, but we couldn’t devise a rule that would effectively protect lynx without having a much longer, broader discussion.”
Camuso said the DIF&W only began discussion the situation over the past four or five days, and with bear trapping season set to begin Saturday, a decision had to be made immediately.
According to a news release from the DIF&W issued Wednesday, the department decided to target a specific method of trapping bears to eliminate that threat.
“[The rule] has been adopted to address only how a trap is set for bear,” the release stated. “More specifically, a foot snare designed to capture a bear when it reaches into the snare or a device to obtain bait or lure is prohibited. The Department will develop a permanent rule proposal to be put in place before the 2019 bear trapping season that will address the issue long term.”
You can find the entire new rule here.
Camuso said she thinks most bear trappers try to lure bears toward a foot-restraint device by hanging food in trees, or by having a bait barrel a short distance away. Trapping hasn’t typically involved trying to entice bears to reach into a trap to grab food.
The bear trapping season in Maine runs Sept. 1 through Oct. 31. Relatively few people participate in the activity. Trappers account for about 3 percent of the annual black bear harvest, according to Camuso. Letters outlining the emergency rule change were sent to about 700 people who have purchased bear trapping permits over the past three years, she said.
The release said the emergency rule adopts measures outlined in the DIF&W’s 2014 Incidental Take Plan for Maine’s Trapping Program.
While lynx are federally listed as a threatened species, biologists have said that the lynx population in Maine has been on a steady increase for the past several years.
This isn’t the first time the DIF&W has quickly changed trapping rules in order to protect Canada lynx.
In fact, barely a month after 2014 incidental take plan went into effect, outlining a series of steps that would take place should lynx die in a trap, the state changed course after two lynx were killed.
In that case, the DIF&W ruled that lethal traps commonly used to catch fisher and pine marten would not be allowed above ground or snow level in 14 of Maine’s 29 Wildlife Management Districts.
According to the DIF&W at the time, those two lynx deaths were the first two documented trapping-related deaths in eight years. A bigger threat to lynx at that time: Motor vehicles, which had killed 26 lynx over the previous five years.
Animal protection groups have targeted trapping in Maine and its potential impact on lynx. In 2017, a federal judge in Bangor dismissed a lawsuit claiming that the state was not adequately protecting lynx.
“[Issuing a last-minute emergency rule] is a challenge, and we know [some trappers] are frustrated and some of them are kind of angry with us right now,” Camuso said. “I understand. But I believe we made this decision with the intent to try and protect lynx and our trapping program into the future.”
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke.
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