‘Who’s your trapper?’ asks MTA director

Daniel Winters photo

Urban foodies are being encouraged to get to know their farmer in order to forge direct links with their food supply.

But to avoid feeding coyotes instead of customers, ranchers and shepherds should get to know their local trapper, said Neil Brandstrom, a Manitoba Trappers Association director from Eriksdale.

“We need you to talk to us this time of year, not when you’re having problems in August and July,” said Brandstrom, in a presentation that offered a trapper’s perspective at a recent predator control workshop hosted by the provincial government and livestock associations.

For ranchers and shepherds, developing relationships with active trappers and hunters long before the fall and winter trapping season starts will pay long-term dividends by keeping predator populations in check.

“When you have overpopulation, coyotes get bold. You see them in your backyard, eating the dog food. They’re starving to death,” said Brandstrom.

Before mange, distemper and rabies thins them out, the weakest individuals in a predator population faced with extreme competition for limited food sources will inevitably resort to terror attacks.

Prevent overpopulation

It makes sense to harvest furbearers every year to prevent overpopulation. Besides, furs can be worth a lot of money.

Most livestock losses occur during the spring and summer, but trapping is best done in early winter when predators’ fur coats are at peak value, and with their available food sources at a low ebb, they are easier to catch.

A trapper friend can offer advice on the best locations to dispose of deadstock, as well as other measures to mitigate losses, he added.

There are multiple ways of preventing livestock losses to predators, but Brandstrom believes that having a trapper handy is the best protection. The transaction works both ways, because trappers need permission to harvest fur on private land, and once they get a foot in the door, they can offset part of the costs by catching other, more lucrative species, too.

“We’re here to help. But if we’re there to get the coyotes, we wouldn’t mind taking the odd marten, too.”

There are an estimated 8,000 predator trappers and hunters in Manitoba, who each pay $5 for an annual fur-harvesting licence. Last year, just under 10,000 coyote pelts were sold at the country’s largest fur auction house, with the average price at $82. Timber wolves sold for an average of $112 on a total of 178 pelts.

With China and Russia’s economies booming, the market for fur is likely to continue trending higher, he added.

Fur market strong

The MTA works with the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation, to offer the Problem Predator Removal Services program linking compensation claims up with trappers.

But the $50,000 annual budget that pays $12 per hour plus mileage isn’t enough, said Brandstrom, and he urged livestock associations to help organize and support more two-day trapper education sessions and in-the-field workshops in order to get more people, especially youth, out trapping.

The status quo needs to change, he added, because losses from predators can be severe. In 2012, $1.07 million in compensation claims were paid out, with coyote kills accounting for 75 per cent. Half the claims were for calves under 300 pounds.

Brandstrom noted that in one community pasture, 40 yearlings were lost before he went in and took out a dozen wolves.

For those who don’t have a trapper nearby, Brandstrom said that with the right training, landowners with good powers of observation and a willingness to learn the right tactics could do it themselves. But he advised caution when starting out.

“Trapping coyotes isn’t something you can learn overnight,” he said, adding that novices can end up “educating” predators with clumsy, ill-informed attempts at catching them.

Having a trapping mentor is best, but often determined novices find that they have what it takes. He noted that one 12-year-old boy who took the trapper’s education course used the knowledge to earn himself a hefty paycheque.

“The following year, he caught 51 coyotes,” he said.

Meetings in six locations were recently held across Manitoba aimed at offering livestock producers an opportunity to learn new prevention techniques and strategies, as well as to gain input via survey forms for future programs, said Larry Gerelus, an MBP director from Shoal Lake.

Working group

The events were one of the first initiatives launched by the Livestock Predation Protection Working Group formed last year, which has representatives from the provincial government, the Manitoba Trappers Association, MBP and the Manitoba Sheep Association.

“MBP believes that this kind of collaboration is what we need when trying to protect our herds from predators. Tonight is just the beginning,” he said, adding that a wide net will be cast by the working group to determine what strategies have been found to work both locally and in other areas, with an eye on reducing livestock losses to wildlife in the future.

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