Recommendations for improving wolf trapping
and radio-collaring procedures.
Background- Dogs are occasionally captured in traps set to catch wolves for monitoring or control purposes. During the week of August 9th, routine leg-hold trapping for wolves was being conducted in Idaho as part of the interagency northern Rocky Mountain wolf monitoring protocol. The trapping area was signed and routine precautions were taken. During the weekend there was an influx of recreationists into the area being trapped. On Saturday morning August 10 two separate instances occurred where a dog hiking/riding with its owners was accidently captured. One dog (a 13-yr old beagle) was released by its owner. However, the other dogís (Queensland Heeler) owner was unable to release the dog and then shot and killed it. After it was learned the beagle had been captured agency biologists began pulling all the traps in the area but not before the second dog was caught. Examination showed neither dog had been seriously injured by the trap but this understandably became an emotional and controversial issue. The Service immediately began a review of its trapping procedures and protocol.
State and Federal wolf trapping experts in the lower 48 states were contacted. These contacts included wolf managers, wolf researchers, and wolf control experts with the Service, Wildlife Services, and state wildlife agencies. They all reported that dogs are occasionally accidentally captured in traps set for wolves. None reported ever having a dog seriously injured by a trap and in most instances the dog is simply released unharmed, either by the owner or biologists. They also reported that in a couple of instances the owners of captured dogs were unable to remove the trap and shot their own pet. All of the biologists take steps similar to our program to reduce the potential for non-target captures. Local agencies and landowners are contacted to make them aware that trapping is occurring in their area and to learn about potential conflicts. A thorough on-site/area inspection is conducted to become aware of human activity and potential conflicts. Signs warning that traps are set in the area are typically used in areas that can be accessed by the public but everyone acknowledged that sometimes people do not read the signs or take them seriously. Signs are sometimes destroyed or can cause people to search for or steal traps. All biologists take particular caution in where traps are set and when special circumstances might occur such as trapping on gravel roads during the start of grouse season in heavily hunted areas or the opening week of hunting seasons that use hounds. These or similar situations might not be trapped depending upon the site specific circumstances. In areas/times when human use maybe an issue, traps can be set farther from roads and trails (this reduces their effectiveness at catching wolves but may avoid catching leashed dogs). Sometimes modified traps such as foot snares can be used since they are more easily understood and removed by people. Trap pan tension devices can prevent the traps from being set off by smaller animals or possibly even very small breeds of dogs. All those that responded were sympathetic to dog owners and all had reported similar incidents and concerns despite efforts to reduce the chance for accidental captures.
Agency Conference Call- From 10am to 11am August 15, Ed Bangs, Joe Fontaine, Tom Meier, Carter Niemeyer, and Curt Mack (Val Asher and Mike Jimenez were unable to join in but the issue was discussed with them separately) participated in a conference call to review what others had said/recommended. These biologists have had extensive wolf and other trapping experience in Alaska, Canada, Minnesota and the northern Rocky Mountains since 1976. They discussed what steps could be taken to reduce the chances for accidental dogs captures or other conflicts between back-country recreationists and agency wolf trapping efforts. Everyone recognized that a few dogs have been captured in the past, that we need to be aware of the seriousness of this issue, and we must adapt to changing circumstances/conditions and risk. We all have noticed a steadily increasing level of recreationists in the back-country. People are also accessing more remote areas, largely due to greatly increased use of ATVís and other motorized vehicles, in what were once remote and rarely visited public lands. Our discussion focused on three main areas 1) Evaluating if trapping is necessary. 2) Making sure existing procedures and protocols are utilized and made more effective if possible. 3) Exploring the potential for using alternative equipment/techniques even if it maybe less effective and /or more expensive in some situations.
1) Evaluating if leg-hold trapping is necessary-
A. We should carefully evaluate if radio-collaring is even necessary. We discussed that radio-collaring is very time and labor intensive and we will continue to work at reducing the programís reliance on radio-telemetry. It seems very unlikely that the level of radio-telemetry monitoring can be sustained at as high a level as it has been and as the wolf population reaches recovery levels there is no need to attempt to maintain the level of capture and radio-telemetry monitoring that was used earlier in the programís history. We discussed continuing or even intensifying our efforts to find less expensive and intrusive ways to monitor or define wolf population status. Ideas are being pursued this fall include a winter survey with fixed-winged aircraft without the aid of radio-telemetry to determine if wolves can be surveyed this way in the lower 48 states like they are in Alaska and Canada and more snow/ground tracking by us and volunteers this winter. We thought that at least through full population recovery and delisting, continued intensive field work will be necessary but that state management should be able to transition into a much more routine and less intensive monitoring program that is not so dependent on radio telemetry.
B. We should carefully evaluate if leg-hold trapping on roads/trails is the most effective method to capture wolves. In the right situation helicopter darting can be more selective and cost effective. Helicopter darting is confined by terrain, weather, and special land-use designations, such as Wilderness. Darting can be hazardous to capture crews and mortality rates for both wolves and biologists are slightly higher than for trapping operations. A suggestion was made that in some situations wolves might be trapped closer to den and rendezvous sites in remote locations to reduce the amount of trapping effort. We might trap in early summer right on top of active wolf dens. The down side is more remote travel could be required. There would also be a higher likelihood of accidental capture of pups and possibly lactating females, and bumping wolves with young pups from important areas. These types of modifications will increase costs associated with radio-collaring because of the extra effort and logistic support required.
C. In some situations leg-hold trapping with steel-jawed traps should not be used. Traps catch non-target animals including pets and even though they are designed to minimize injuries, some injuries can still occur. Alternative traps such as neck snares, leg snares, and rubber-lined leg-hold traps can be used in some situations. Although these types of traps are generally less effective than steel-jawed leg-hold traps, they can catch and hold wolves. Each of these traps also has specific drawbacks associated with their use but in certain situations they can be the right tool to reduce the chances of conflict with recreationists. Not all of these tools have been proven effective and field testing will be required before they can be fairly evaluated.
D. Everyone agreed the most critical issue was trap placement. There are some areas/times where leg-holds traps simply shouldnít or canít be used. It was suggested it was more important than ever to contact local management agencies so they can alert us to potential problems, such as large influxes of recreationists during certain period. It was also suggested that in some circumstances where other options are limited, land management agencies should be approached to determine if we can do an even better job of working within their existing policies (such as seasonal road or trail closures) or if they would be willing to consider short [1-2 weeks] closures to assist with wolf trapping efforts to help to reduce the potential for conflicts.
2) Making sure existing procedures are utilized and improved upon-
A. All traps should have an identification tag. Traps should have pan-tension devices to prevent the capture of small animals. Trap jaws should be modified to have rounded rather than pointed nubs. In areas where conflicts appear to be a consideration- use of snares or rubber-lined traps should be considered rather than steel-jawed leg-hold traps. In some situations trap tranquilizer tabs may reduce stress to captured animals. In areas with a reasonable potential for conflict- trapping should be postponed or abandoned. In high travel areas, on weekends, or during hot weather traps should generally be checked both morning and evening. If necessary, traps maybe temporarily covered with large stones during certain [short] periods of time (ie. weekends) to avoid potential non-target captures or other conflicts. All trapping areas should be well signed in a manner that people can be expected to pay attention. Where possible, signs should provide an emergency contact number for assistance- in case a dog or wolf is caught. That number should also give back-up phone numbers in case assistance is needed on typically off-duty hours. Signs should have their own sign post when possible rather than being hung on a nearby tree to make the signs more visible. Certain words, such as DOGS, or bright colors and flagging may grab peopleís attention. Two person crews should be used when possible and trap locations should be clearly recorded so every trap is accounted for.
B. We should carefully evaluate the area being trapped. Contact should be made with local landowners and land management agencies. Wildlife Services should be contacted to see if they may have suggestions or information about the area being trapped. If in doubt spend extra time in the area before traps are set or ask for additional information and assistance. Be aware that trapping situations constantly change and constant evaluation is necessary. When ever possible trapping should be timed to occur on private land or in areas not easily accessible to the general public.
C. Recommendations can be made but the actual decisions about wolf capture have to be made by field crews and each respective project leader. There are so many variables in each situation that decisions have to be on a case-by-case and site-by-site basis. Training should emphasize safety and identification of potential hazards or marginal trapping situations.
3) Alternative methods/techniques
A. We will continue to evaluate and use alternative methods to capture wolves. We have already purchased or used Belisle foot snares, locking snares with stops, rubber-lined trap jaws, helicopter darting equipment, and transmitter darts for ground darting. We will continue to work with Wildlife Services and other agencies to investigate new technologies and tools for humane and safe animal capture.
B. We will conduct winter helicopter darting and in some situations we have conducted summer darting operations. We will continue to seek out additional opportunities to use this capture tool when safe [to both wolves and biologists] to do so.
C. We recognize that as people increasingly use back-country areas and as the wolf population increases in front-country areas, the potential for conflicts with management actions and the public increases. We are more aware of the increased potential for conflict and will take steps to minimize accidental captures in leg-hold traps. However, undoubtedly some conflicts will occur despite our best efforts. We also recognize that as we take extra precautions the amount of time, effort, and cost involved will increase. The best and longest term solution appears to be moving from the current federally-led intensive wolf recovery program to a longer-term more routine state wolf management program. Wolf population recovery is nearly complete and delisting will likely be proposed in 2003. Long term wolf population management should not involve wide-spread intensive wolf capture or wolf radio-telemetry. However, until that time increased awareness of the potential for conflicts will be useful in helping to reduce them.
In summary, the wolf program intends to continue to move away from the high level of radio-telemetry monitoring it has used in the past to less intensive wolf management strategies, which will reduce agency costs and the potential for conflicts such as non-target captures. In the meanwhile the Serviceís wolf monitoring program will take extra precautions, such as those listed above, and will make field biologists aware of their responsibility to reduce the potential for conflicts between our management actions and the publicís other interests. A copy of this document will immediately be distributed to all wolf trapping crews for their comments and consideration.
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