Trapping

 

(This 1247th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on February 15, 2015.)

 

Dan Carroll with beaver pelt

 

Dan Carroll is retired from his position as biologist for the Tonawanda, Oak Orchard and Braddock Bay Wildlife Management Areas. I know him best as the sponsor of three important programs: the reintroduction of eagles and then ospreys to this region after their extirpation due to DDT and the development of the insect-control program for purple loosestrife that has been so successful nationwide.

 

In retirement Dan and his wife spend much of their summers in the gardens around their Akron home. But in winter Dan turns to another lifelong avocation, trapping.

 

And here is where many of you readers -- passive participants in outdoor activities like bird watching and hiking -- will wince.

 

Because trapping involves killing animals.

 

And our increasingly urban society has been programmed to hate animal killing and to decry anyone who does that killing.

 

It begins in infancy with cuddly teddy bears. Then over half of the books for children involve animals with human characteristics, many even talking. And in most of those stories the villains, along with Wiley Coyote and Sylvester the Cat, are us.

 

Now as adults we are bombarded with books: Animals and their Legal Rights, Green Rage, Animal Theology, Animal Liberation, All Heaven in a Rage (rage seems to be the operative attitude here) and even Feminism and the Defense of Animals. Given the already established public climate, the effect of these books is like stealing candy from a baby.

 

I think that this attitude toward animals is wrong.

 

Some of the resulting postures are simply silly. We can no longer refer to pets, they must be companion animals. We can't dissect animals in school biology classes.

 

But there are darker sides as well. Throw paint on a fur coat; never mind that you're wearing leather shoes. Destroy a lab where animal experimentation contributes to medical practice. A reader expressed this to me in extreme form: "If my father's life could be saved by a drug developed through animal experimentation, I would rather he died."

 

Consider the Washington state jogger killed by a mountain lion. A collection was taken up for the woman's children. But another fund, established to save the lion, gained many times the contributions to the family fund.

 

Rural attitudes differ and this was brought home to me when, driving a country road, my car hit and killed a cat. Distressed, I got out to apologize to the farmer who saw this and walked toward me across his lawn. He stopped my stuttering by telling me, "Pay no mind." He picked up the carcass by the tail and walked off toward his barn.

 

My early childhood was spent in urban Rochester, but even there my father would occasionally bring home a live chicken. When she was ready to cook the chicken, my mother would take it into the backyard where she chopped off its head. I was not allowed to watch but I helped pluck out the feathers.

 

Today we are guarded from such death but it still happens. Our meat comes cellophane-wrapped but there are slaughterhouses and butchers who prepare it behind the scenes. Hides continue to be used for many purposes, including clothing. Out of sight is out of mind.

 

Dan Carroll personalizes the activity for me.

 

From late November until mid-February Dan spends about four hours every day running his trap lines. There is much physical effort required, because holes must be chopped in ice to set traps underwater and there are long walks though deep snow. Then he returns home to prepare his catch.

 

His activities are in response to problems: beavers flooding farms and toppling parkland trees, raccoons stealing a corn crop, a weasel in a hen house, muskrats undermining dikes. As Dan pointed out to me, attitudes change when you are the one affected.

 

I thought that trappers made money from their activity. Dan disabused me. He does sell the hides and meat. It turns out, for example, that in some areas muskrat is a delicacy: there it is referred to as marsh rabbit. But once he factors in his equipment and clothing he breaks even, never mind those hours in the field.

 

I see trapping as an activity that should be compared, not with hunting, but with ranching. Dan and his trapping colleagues are managing wildlife just as cattlemen manage wild cattle. We should appreciate them, not decry their activity and certainly not them.