Captured agencies are a form of government failure that occurs when a regulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, instead advances the commercial or political concerns of special interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating.
Part one raised the following question: since trapping creates very little revenue and is practiced by so few – 2535 residents of a state population of approximately 1,330,000 – one has to wonder why it has the support of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in proposing to extend the trapping season for beavers and the hunting season for bobcats. The real reason might be the economic support the Department apparently feels is due to trappers who, lest we forget, comprise an incredibly small minority of the state’s population – approximately two percent. Why all this concern directed to so few?
For example, consider this statement from the Department’s 2015 Research and Management Report:
“This season was a tough one for Maine trappers. With the combination of difficult weather, dramatically low fur prices, and the emergency closure during the marten/fisher season in the lynx zones, the trappers took hits from all sides . . . .With the exception of mink and gray fox, harvests of or all species were lower than the previous five-year averages. While there have been concerns associated with harvest declines for a number of species, this year’s harvest may have been abnormally low because of the variety of pressures trappers faced this past season.”
The focus certainly seems to be on the trappers (‘tough season,’ ‘taking hits from all sides’) and not on the animals the Department is supposed to be protecting – not a word mentioned about the cruelty and prolonged suffering that the state’s wildlife are being subjected to, all in the name of profit, even though that profit is declining. See current prices here: http://trappingtoday.com/
One of the targeted animals is the beaver, even though they “ reliably and economically maintain wetlands that sponge up floodwaters, alleviate droughts and floods (because their dams keep water on the land longer), lesson erosion, raise the water table and act as the “earth’s kidneys” to purify water.” It is legal in Maine to trap beavers with underwater snares, drowning sets, steel leg hold traps, colony traps and killer-type traps that crush the neck or spinal columns of beavers. Traps set underwater are all designed to drown beavers; a particularly cruel method because beavers can hold their breath underwater for 10, 15, perhaps up to 20 minutes. This is a gentle, family-oriented creature who is beneficial to the environment, but to the trapper, it’s only a cash crop, and not much cash at that.
Another animal in the cross hairs or trap is one of the most egregious examples of trophy hunting, one that we should all be ashamed to allow or tolerate. Bobcats are elegant, graceful, solitary creatures, veritable works of nature’s art in design and pattern, and they are vital part of the wilderness, as explained by John Davis, a conservationist writing in March of last year:
“Bobcats play important ecological roles in forest ecosystems. They are effective predators of rodents and rabbits, helping hold in check numbers of these and other herbivores. We should be protecting, not persecuting, our remaining predators, and studying how to restore those we’ve eradicated. The once-eradicated predators of the Northeast include the bobcat’s more boreal cousin, the Canada Lynx and its imperiled status is another reason why allowing the killing of Bobcats, by guns or traps, is wrong. Bobcats and Lynx look much alike; and sport hunters or trappers can easily kill Lynx thinking they are killing bobcat. Bobcats are worth more for wildlife watching and tracking opportunities than they are as pelts.”
Bobcat hunting is cruel and abusive. Bobcats in Maine are hunted with packs of GPS-collared hounds accompanied by “recreational” hunters in snowmobiles. The bobcats are chased until they are exhausted and are cornered by the dogs. The bobcats are then shot at close range or bludgeoned to death.
A season extension for bobcat hunting would also increase the risk that the bobcat’s cousin, the Canada lynx—a federally-listed threatened species—will be misidentified and killed by bobcat hunters. Instead of protecting bobcats, however, our Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife allows them to be trapped and hunted, with no bag limit.
It’s a remarkable and troubling reversal of priorities that puts the financial gain of trappers and hunters ahead of the well-being and protection of our animals. If we reduce it to a logical premise, it would be “less participation requires more killing.” The result is a kind of welfare program for trappers and bobcat hunters, subsidized by the death of our wildlife.
These issues all came to the forefront on the morning of October 7, 2016 when the Department met to render its decision regarding the extension of the trapping season for beavers and the hunting season for bobcats. Those who were opposed were hopeful because of the level of their involvement. By the close of the comment period at 5 PM the previous day, 57 were in favor of the proposed extensions, but a clear majority -91 citizens – were against them. Considering that no public hearing had originally been scheduled, it was a tribute to the power of activism. Nonetheless, the Department voted unanimously in favor of the extensions, acting more like a private club than a public agency.
How did this travesty come about? 55 of the opposing comments were excluded from consideration because they objected to the cruelty, and that was viewed as irrelevant by the Department. More hunting and trapping means more cruelty, but that was not a concern, placing the state agency in the position of allowing Maine’s wildlife to be exposed to the kind of suffering and mistreatment that would normally be regarded in other situations as animal abuse.
26 opposition opinions were also discounted because they claimed: “that there is no data or insufficient data to support the proposed changes.” In response, the Department stated that ‘Most wildlife in North America (both harvested and unharvested) are tracked using indices. When a species is harvested, harvest data is often used to develop these indices. The population of bobcats in Maine is tracked using an index that incorporates harvest as it relates to trapping effort to track the trends in bobcat population.” I don’t know what readers may think about the previous statement, but it’s one of the best examples of doubletalk I’ve seen in a very long time.
The Department’s 2015 Research and Management Report is much clearer, stating that the number of bobcats trapped and hunted “declined from a high of 410, during the 07-08 season, to a new low of 111 bobcats this past season. How much of this decline in the annual harvest rate can be attributed to an actual decline in the bobcat population or changes in trapping/hunting effort is still an unanswered question.” In other words, the Department doesn’t know how many bobcats are in the state, but the season should still be extended to give trappers and hunters an extra week of ‘opportunity’ to kill them.
Finally, 13 opposition comments were not considered because they felt that “furbearer management decisions should not be based on fur prices and/or the potential economic benefit to trappers.” Here the Department blatantly contradicts itself.
When the proposals were introduced, this was the rationale the Department provided:
Low fur prices have also contributed to several years of low harvest for some species, especially beaver. Therefore, we are proposing several adjustments to current furbearer trapping and hunting seasons in an effort to allow more opportunity for hunters and trappers to pursue some species.
By contrast, in the Department’s Response to Public Comments on Furbearer Hunting and Trapping Seasons – Rule Chapter 4 – October 7, 2016, they stated virtually the opposite:
“The proposed hunting and trapping season extensions are not intended to allow trappers to harvest more animals in order to increase the amount of revenue from fur sales. The Department does not recommend changes to hunting or trapping seasons based on economic factors.”
The irony here is evident on more than one level. Not only has the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife been captured by the small minority of hunters and trappers and their lobbyists here in Maine, but also controlled to do their bidding despite what the majority of citizens may feel. Ironically, we are trapped as well, because so long as the Department ignores the voices of the opposition, a basic tenet of representative democracy is undermined and robbed of its power to affect public policy. It allows repugnant actions that we know little or nothing about to be committed in our name – actions that we might very well oppose if we were involved in their decisions.
Don Loprieno is a published author and has maintained a life-long interest in education and history. He lives in Bristol, Maine where he is active in community affairs. Don is a frequent contributor to a radio program called Into the Wilderness broadcast Tuesday evenings from 8-8:30 on WMPG FM 90.9.