DEAR READERS: The practice of trapping animals for the global fur trade is still alive and well, and nontarget species are often caught in the process. Selling trapper licenses provides states with extra revenue, and the demand for fur perpetuates the wildlife management policy of sustainable "harvesting."
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a federal lawsuit in 2020 over Minnesota's trapping regulations. The group's goal was to better protect Canada lynx, which are listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, from dying in traps and snares set for other animals. A settlement has now been reached between the CBD and the state's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to the effect that wire snares set to catch coyotes and bobcats around their necks cannot close tighter than 3 1/4 inches, which is considered large enough for a lynx to survive and be released. New rules have also been established regarding the size and type of leghold traps allowed within the state's designated Lynx Management Zone. Of course, these initiatives were contested by the Minnesota Trappers Association, the National Trappers Association and the Fur Takers of America.
The cruelty of traps and snares notwithstanding, there is no way that nontarget species can be spared entirely. Biologist Clayton Lamb spent nearly five years proving that grizzly bears were getting their toes caught in small traps intended for martens. The traps did not immediately sever the bears' toes, but they caused injuries severe enough that the toes eventually died and fell off. Injured bears seeking food may be more prone to conflicts with humans. Lamb's research led the government of British Columbia to require plates on marten traps that prevent bear injuries.
While the bobcat, marten, fisher and otter are "registered furbearers" in Minnesota -- meaning that their "harvesting" is monitored by the Minnesota DNR -- the red fox and coyote are not. Both canids can be shot or trapped at any time. According to the DNR website, "The red fox is the most common predator in the state. Hunters and trappers harvest up to 100,000 each year, but the fox population remains strong. A disease called sarcoptic mange sometimes kills thousands of red foxes. Red foxes compete for space with coyotes, which will kill foxes."
As consumers of earthworms, red foxes provide a vital ecological service in helping reduce the number of invasive European earthworms -- a documented destructive species that causes significant ecological damage and loss of biodiversity in North American forests.
The extermination of wolves across the U.S. has enabled the incursion of coyotes into many states where there are no seasonal restrictions on hunting and trapping them. Coyotes are subjected to cruel methods of predator extermination, as documented by Project Coyote. This organization, along with other conservation and animal protection groups, has succeeded in stopping coyote-killing contests and setting dogs onto caged coyotes -- in some states. These activities continue in several others.
Lynx protection aside, this wholesale killing of furbearing carnivores should end. Traps and snares are cruel, causing pain and terror to any animals caught. From a conservation perspective, banning all traps and snares would help protect nontarget martens, stoats, weasels and polecats. And from a humane perspective, such a ban would protect owned cats and dogs who are (whether wrongly or accidentally) allowed to run free.
Foxes, coyotes and other carnivores help control Lyme disease, now infecting thousands of people and their dogs across many states, by controlling mice and other small rodents that harbor tick-borne diseases. Tens of thousands of Americans are infected annually by Lyme disease, and the numbers are increasing.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, "Climate is just one of many important factors that influence the transmission, distribution, and incidence of Lyme disease. Other factors ... include changes in the populations of host species (particularly deer), which affect tick population size. The percentage of ticks that are infected depends on the prevalence and infection rates of white-footed mice and certain other hosts." High deer numbers in many states are encouraged by deer hunting organizations, which also advocate the hunting and trapping of wolves -- seen as competitors for deer -- and by property owners planting feed for deer.
This is further evidence that wildlife and habitat management practices should not be dictated by the trapping and hunting industries, nor jeopardized by the timber, livestock and mining industries. Considering the political influence of these and related industries, including fur farms, significant progress will be limited until all commercial trapping and captive-raising of furbearers is prohibited across the U.S.
In September 2019, California became the first state in the country to ban trapping for commercial and recreational purpose. Over 100 countries have prohibited the use of the steel-jaw leghold trap for humane reasons. Several countries have also banned fur farms for public health reasons, since mink have contracted and spread COVID-19 to and from infected workers. Foxes and other furbearers are also susceptible to this disease.
There are currently at least 250 fur farms operating in the U.S. across 21 states, collectively producing about 3 million pelts per year. Major fashion brands, including Armani, Gucci and Versace, have stopped using fur, and 61% of U.S. voters say they support a ban on fur farming. Yet the $22 billion industry is still legal in the U.S. and in much of the rest of the world.
The bottom line: Don't buy or wear fur!
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)