‘Trapped’ in the middle

Published 10:37 am Thursday, March 10, 2016



WINDSOR – Coyotes may be cute and funny in the cartoons chasing road runners, but it real life they can be threatening to humans, wildlife, and domestic pets in both urban and rural areas.

Nowadays, the cartoon explosions associated with coyotes are less than something to laugh about in real life because the coyote population has exploded and expanded over the last 20 years here in the Tarheel state.

“There’s no way to get rid of them,” said David Denton, of Edenton, a retired NC Wildlife Resources Commission hunter education instructor and now operator of Denton Wildlife Services.

NC Wildlife Resources Commission biologist Chris Turner speaks before the Bertie County Commissioners, who were seeking input regarding a possible local-law fox trapping season. | Staff Photo by GENE MOTLEY

NC Wildlife Resources Commission biologist Chris Turner speaks before the Bertie County Commissioners, who were seeking input regarding a possible local-law fox trapping season. | Staff Photo by GENE MOTLEY

Denton was speaking before the Bertie County Board of Commissioners at their March 7 meeting where he came to talk about possible changes in the county’s local trapping laws for coyotes as well as the two fox species native to the county: red foxes and gray foxes.

Forty years ago, fox hunters had a strong lobby and had fox hunting without trapping laws passed. At that time only a few counties had a trapping season, but at that time the state didn’t have the coyote population it boasts now.

In the past 20 years in North Carolina, coyotes have changed the landscape in wildlife management by wreaking havoc on wildlife populations and causing serious issues with poultry, sheep, goats, cattle, and horses, along with domestic pets.

While hunting can take care of a few problem animals, it is not an effective way to control coyote populations. The only effective control is trapping.

Currently, Bertie County does not allow the trapping of fox by local county law, but the Commissioners can pass a new local county law to override the old one. Neighboring counties without fox trapping seasons include Hertford, Martin, Washington, and Perquimans.

“My suggestion is to go to your County Commissioners and propose changing your fox season,” Denton said. “The kind of traps you would set to catch a fox also catches a coyote, so if you have trappers in the county who catch a fox they’re going to have to let it go.”

In recent years, Denton says counties have started passing laws for trapping fox, for both fox and coyote problems. Coyotes and fox are basically caught in the same type of trap-set. Counties allowing fox trapping have in turn encouraged trappers to trap in that county by not having to release all foxes captured.

Denton cited fox trapping in Johnston County where when fox traps were introduced the number of coyotes trapped increased dramatically.

“They still have coyotes in Johnston County, this won’t get rid of them,” Denton noted. “It will help curtail the surplus, and it’s free (trapping) to landowners.”

He said the law that Chowan County passed several years ago is the wording most counties across the state are now passing, basically classifying the fox as a “game/furbearer” with no added restrictions, the same classification as raccoon, opossums, and bobcats. This type of game, he said, can be hunted or trapped.

“If you read the Chowan law, it allows for capture and sale,” Denton said. “That encourages (hunters/trappers) a way to recoup some of their expense.”

Denton said NC Wildlife Resources Commission has very limited authority to regulate fox hunting and trapping seasons, that only the General Assembly has the authority to allow fox trapping in a county through passage of a local law.

“That’s where I’m coming out from,” he added. “It’s something simple that’s been proven to work in other parts of the state and there’s no reason to feel it won’t work here, and there’s no cost to anybody.”

Denton was followed at the podium by Curtis Turner, a NCWRC wildlife biologist, who shared additional information on fox hunting and trapping. He noted the differences in the fox species and said coyotes impact the red fox population much more because of the animals’ competition, such as in seeking food.

“When we look at fox habitats we see diversity across the landscape,” Turner said. “A lot of counties on the coast are good fox habitats because of timber management. Foxes are defined as game animals, meaning they can be taken with dogs year-round across the state.”

Turner says there are 41 of North Carolina’s 100 counties that have fox trapping laws. The state law regarding foxes, coupled with the diversity of local laws, has resulted in 27 fox hunting seasons with weapons in 85 counties, and 22 fox trapping seasons in those 41 counties. He said there’s a trapping season for fur-bearers, but foxes are not considered fur-bearers, such as skunks and raccoons and other species that are classified also as game animals.

Bertie County’s law as per the General Assembly is that foxes may be taken the Saturday preceding Thanksgiving through January 1 by firearms or bow and arrow in all areas of the state east of Interstate Highway 77 and in Caldwell and Mitchell counties with a daily bag limit of two and season limit of 10. Foxes taken under this season may not be bought or sold.

“Trapping as a tool is sustainable,” Turner noted. “It provides another use of our wildlife resources because it is highly regulated in what people can and cannot do legally.”

The biologist also pointed to the NCWRC’s trapping Best Management Practices (BMP) policy. The BMP gives information on all furbearer species and suggestions for the best traps to use for each species and how to make sets. The BMP’s were designed to teach proper methods for trapping regarding animal comfort and trapper safety, along with catch and cost effectiveness.

“In counties without a local law fox (trapping) season, (hunters) must release any foxes that are caught,” Turner said. “Bertie has good red and gray fox habitats, but only hunting (not trapping) is allowed.”

Turner encouraged the Commissioners to read up on NCWRC regulations and how other counties have structured their laws.

“There’s a lot of complexity when it comes to the season that has been set, and sometimes this makes it a challenge for the trappers,” he stated.

Commission chair John Trent asked Turner if he felt Bertie County needed a fox trapping season.

“I can’t make a recommendation,” Turner confessed. “We don’t have any numbers on the population (in the county), and there’s no direct research I’m aware of.”

A couple of Bertie County fox hunters were present at the meeting and one stated in his 43 years of fox hunting he was against a trapping law for the county.

“You’ve got to look hard to find gray foxes (in the county), because they are very scarce,” the hunter said. “I’ve heard too many times that they’ll catch one coyote for every five foxes. Coyotes are what need to be trapped, but he’s slick, but we’ve got some dogs that can take care of that.”

The hunters expressed opposition to a fox trapping season.

“Coyotes, that’s fine,” one said, “but for foxes I’d be really opposed to it. You don’t see any three-legged foxes running around.”

Denton returned to make clear what needs to be known when it comes to trapping.

“If you are trapping, you must have written permission from the landowner for that particular year,” he noted. “In the areas I’ve been for trapping, landowners have hired me to manage small game (in Bertie), I’ve seen quite a few fox tracks and fox signs.”

The Commissioners thanked everyone for their input, but took no action.