LDWF, Partners Work To Educate A New Generation On The Benefits Of Trapping
story by Tanya Sturman, LDWF Staff
In modern society, conservation and sustainability are intrinsically linked. Wildlife users are some of the most passionate conservationists and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) recognizes hunters, trappers and anglers as valuable allies in managing Louisiana’s natural resources and reaching conservation goals.
Hunting, trapping and fishing regulations are designed to maintain a balance between species, setting seasons and bag limits that preserve populations while preventing population explosions. Furthermore, the funding generated by hunting, trapping and fishing license fees supports LDWF conservation and wildlife management programs. But like many states, Louisiana has seen a decline in these traditional outdoor activities since the 1980s.
As a commercial activity, trapping license sales were severely impacted in the late 1980s and early 1990s by a weakened fur market. Fur prices plummeted with the decline of the Soviet Union and the simultaneous growth of the animal rights movement. Many trappers and fur dealers turned to other professions and did not pass these traditional skills on to their children.
Consequently, nutria and muskrat populations rebounded, and in some areas exceeded their carrying capacity, resulting in widespread wetland damage. Trapping is the most effective wildlife management tool for these species but the knowledge gap that resulted from the decline of the fur market in the 1980s creates a challenge in utilizing this management tool today.
To address this knowledge gap and to recruit new trappers, LDWF partnered with the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) and the Louisiana Trappers and Alligator Hunters Association (LTAHA) to implement a voluntary trapper education program.
The three-part program begins with an online course developed with AFWA, followed by a single day workshop and a three-day trapping school with the LTAHA. Although trapper education is not required to obtain a trapping license in Louisiana, the free program provides valuable skills and information even for experienced trappers.
The online trapper education course is hosted by AFWA and primarily follows the curriculum developed by AFWA for the North American Basic Trapper course. The Louisiana course has been edited to include several sections that are geared specifically to Louisiana laws, regulations and history. The course also covers trapping safety, animal welfare, trapping ethics and furbearer management as well as very practical topics such as trapping equipment, the many types of traps and their specific uses, running a trap line and what can be done with pelts.
It is a self-study course and can be completed at any pace. There are quizzes that must be passed to earn the completion certificate but the quizzes can be retaken and the material can be reviewed as many times as necessary. The free online course is on AFWA’s Conservation Learning Campus at ConservationLearning.org. Although the online course is not required to proceed to the hands-on workshops, it provides a valuable foundation.
The workshops are geared to teenagers and adults but many younger children have participated in the workshops and have enjoyed success after the program. A number of grandparents have brought their grandchildren and full families have come with both parents and multiple children. Addison Thomas, 10, brought her father, because she was interested in learning to trap and her father had no experience with it to help her. LDWF provided her with a couple of traps at the workshop and her father bought her a trapping license on the way home. The next morning, she successfully trapped two raccoons.
The single day workshops run a full day and are held in various locations around the state during the trapping season, which runs from Nov. 20 - March 31 each year. LDWF provides lunch on-site so that the lunch hour can be used for a question and answer session.
The morning starts with a classroom presentation by Jennifer Manual, the LDWF furbearer biologist. She introduces much of the material found in the online course, including best management practices, wildlife management, humane and ethical trapping, and Louisiana regulations. She reviews licensing, shipping labels, details about shipping furs out of state and special tags required on bobcats and otter.
The remainder of the workshop is generally held outdoors and begins with a show-and-tell of a large variety of trapping equipment. This demonstration covers many different styles of traps, the various sizes they come in, different modifications that enhance the comfort of the trapped animal and which animals can be caught safely and humanely with each trap.
Students then rotate through demonstrations on how to set traps on land for coyote, bobcat, fox and raccoon and demonstrations on targeting beaver, nutria, otter and mink in or around water. After lunch, students have a hands-on opportunity to set traps, with instructors assisting as needed. The class finishes with skinning demonstrations.
The full weekend trapping school is held at the Woodworth Education Center near Alexandria and is by invitation only to those who have completed the single day workshop.
This weekend program is jam-packed with opportunities for further learning. Students set and run their own trap-lines with the guidance of instructors and they skin what they catch. The evenings are filled with demonstrations on making catch-poles, skinning, fleshing, trap modification and trap-dying and even home tanning. Students stay at the bunkhouse and all meals are prepared on-site. It is the Crème de la Crème of the trapper education program.
Louisiana’s trapper education program follows the 3Rs model: recruitment, retention, and reactivation. It is an in-depth program designed to support new and experienced trappers with deeper learning provided at each progressive program level. Through time and experience, participants gain all of the knowledge and tools that they need to develop a personal identity as a trapper.
Randy Koncinsky is a landowner in central Louisiana, who developed an interest in trapping as a wildlife management tool for his own property. He set his first trap at a trapping school held at Woodworth Education Center and caught a bobcat with his first set. Koncinsky has participated in multiple trapping events led by LDWF and now has the skills necessary to meet his property management goals. Koncinsky encourages others to seize the opportunity.
“In the circle of life, everything requires balance,” Koncinsky said. “Helping to maintain that balance within our ecosystem through strict wildlife conservation assures the preservation of the Great American Outdoors. I am very thankful for the opportunities given me by the LDWF to provide education that inevitably helps maintain that balance through trapping and proper land management. So take a stand, get your license, and let’s go get some bobcats.”
Several students have mentored under the LTAHA instructors beyond the workshops. A few students have returned year after year and are now instructors themselves. Three enthusiastic teenagers are currently in mentorship through this program and have done some team-teaching with the established instructors.
Emily Phillips, 19, has gone through both the hunter education instructor training and the trapper education instructor training and assisted at a couple of workshops in the 2019-2020 season.
Nicholas Lemoine, 15, has several years tanning experience already and did a brain-tanning presentation at the trapping school in March 2020.
Cameron Mire, 14, has attended a number of workshops and has assisted by doing some skinning demonstrations. Mire has worked hard to improve his personal catch-rate through working on both his skills-set and mindset. He says that he’s learned that, “you need confidence but not cockiness,” and that you “have to find what works for you and repeat it.”
As an instructor in-training with the LTAHA, Lemoine was able to spend a full week on a trap line with three of the trapping instructors. He learned a great deal about animal sign and trap-setting and caught a number of species that he’d never trapped before.
“A dream of mine has been to catch a mink and an otter,” Lemoine said. “One of the mornings, we saw an otter slide and I set a body-grip trap. Later, we got to a drainage area by the crawfish ponds and Mr. Justin showed me a mink run. I set a body-grip trap there, hoping to catch a mink.
“When we went to check the traps early the next morning, we drove by the otter set and I was happy to see the trap was moved out of its place towards the water. I walked down the bank and could see that there was a big otter in the trap. I was super excited because that was my first otter. I couldn’t wait to run more traps. When we checked the mink trap I had set, I was more excited to see there was a big mink in my trap - my very first one. Within four days, I caught three minks out of the same trap.”
Each year, the number of women attending the workshops has increased and the age range has expanded on both ends. It is a program with wide appeal and people come for many personal reasons.
One woman attended the workshop because she raises prize chickens and wanted to protect the henhouse from foxes and raccoons. Another woman came because she and her daughters are passionate about conservation and want to trap nutria to protect Louisiana’s coast.
Many people attend to learn about managing predators on their property or hunting leases. Some come because they have inherited traps from their grandparents or have found photos of their ancestors trapping.
April Lemoine brought her son, who is interested in self-sufficiency and wildlife conservation. Lemoine really valued the hands-on opportunities the workshops provide, saying, “The hands-on experiences the students participated in, in my opinion, were invaluable to those who were truly passionate about trapping and wildlife conservation. I can honestly say that Nicholas has become passionate about trapping - beyond what I imagined he would.”
The success of the trapper education program is demonstrated through testimonials and success photos sent by the participants, through feedback from the fur buyers commenting on improved fur quality, by students returning and bringing friends to the next season’s workshops and by the modest, yet steady, increase in Louisiana trapping license sales since the inception of the trapper education program.
The trapping license sales in Louisiana are essential to support the trapper education program, as $20 from the $25 license fee goes directly into the Louisiana Fur Public Education and Marketing Fund. Whereas adult trapping license sales climbed by a modest 15 percent over a three year period, youth trapping licenses more than tripled between 2017 and 2019. As wildlife agencies nationwide are struggling with a decline in hunting and trapping licenses, Louisiana is making small gains through the trapper education program.
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