Killing the Holy Grail: Fisher, wolverine trapping continues

Pine marten – USFWS photo

Last autumn, on a remote forest road in Montana’s northern Bitterroot Mountains, I saw my first fisher. The luxuriously-coated, dark brown carnivore–a member of the weasel family–had just caught lunch. As he dragged his prey into the forest, I wished him safe passage through the coming trapping season. A few years earlier I came face-to-face with a pine marten on a high, wild trail in the Tetons. My first and only marten sighting was cause for amazement and gratitude—just the two of us in a deep forest, quietly considering each other. An exquisite least weasel in Yellowstone’s backcountry, a long-tailed weasel rippling through snow on my own property–no doubt about it, the mustelids had, well, weaseled their way into my heart. But for all my considerable time spent in wild, remote places, I’ve yet to encounter a wolverine. What an unforgettable event that will be!

But, just like excrement, trapping happens. Some Montana mustelids (otter, fisher, wolverine) are considered “furbearers” for whom quotas exist; others like the pine marten face unlimited trapping.While it might be true that “the trapping quota for all of western Montana is just seven fishers a year” (according to a recent article in the Missoulian, “Biologists Hunt for Fisher Hair”), we have no idea what percentage of their small population this constitutes. Furthermore, MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) reports that nine were actually trapped this season*—two over quota—and those are only the reported statistics. Trappers have, in the past, caused at least one wolverine study to be scrapped because they killed so many of the research animals; should we trust that each and every “harvest” of a sensitive species is reported?

By their own designation, FWP considers fishers and wolverines “species of concern.” The wolverine has been reviewed for Endangered Species Act listing by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service—and while they were found to warrant listing, they didn’t make the priority cut (“warranted but precluded”). The fisher is currently under review for listing in the Northern Rockies. (Update: Found not warranted for listing. Read here. Update update: Feds to protect wolverine as threatened species) Why are these fragile populations subject to trapping in Montana at all? (Montana is the only state in the lower 48 to allow wolverine trapping.) What science stands behind the decision to trap any of an unknown, dwindling number?

Biologists are attempting to get a handle on just how many fishers inhabit our neck of the woods by snagging their fur. DNA evidence via hair sampling might be changing wildlife biology, as one biologist noted in the Missoulian, but until commercial and recreational trophy trapping is entirely closed for these species, we have no idea what we’re losing in the meantime. Not only is trapping intentionally cruel, but where some species are concerned, it could be robbing us of our wildlife heritage. Again.

At a state commission meeting for Montana FWP a few years ago, fisher and wolverine trapping quotas were on the agenda. Individual activists, grassroots groups, and representatives of the large, national organizations attended; we asked the commission to close trapping entirely for these imperiled species. Trappers, of course, advocated for continued trapping; one of them called the wolverine “the Holy Grail of trapping.” Imagine finding the Holy Grail–and killing it!

Now that I’ve beheld both a pine marten and a fisher, the wolverine is my Holy Grail, too. Yessiree, I’m going for a mustelid grand slam! But when I find my wolverine, I won’t kill her. I won’t remove his genes from a pool whose shallow depth is unknown. I’ll remember that global warming is placing serious, increased pressures on Gulo gulo,who needs deep snow at high elevations well into the spring birthing season.

But back to the fisher. The cash payout for a dead fisher is $42.83 per skin. That’s according to FWP’s 2009 state furbearer program newsletter, the most recent they’ve made available. Fisher by rare fisher, that’s 42 bucks and change in trappers’ pockets. The rest of us—those who appreciate and respect wildlife, those who love ’em alive—are getting robbed, and it’s simply dead wrong.

*The quota status now shows 8 killed.

This post first appeared on the animal law blog, Animal Blawg.

Two animal rescues: 33 happy homecomings & one heartbreaker

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Anyone who works in the animal rights arena knows that a single day–nay, a single minute–can feature the most jubilant high and the utmost despairing low. One emotion follows on the heels of the other as news randomly enters your world: humans at their most compassionate and generous best–vigorously turning the wheels of justice for animals; humans at their most uncaring and depraved worst–deliberately evil monsters or indifferent agents of neglect, suffering, and death. How on earth to reconcile this?

This very scenario played out recently with good news about South American circus lions–33 of them (9 from Columbia; the rest from Peru)–who are being prepared to embark on the biggest airlift of its kind to The Wild Animal Sanctuary, a 720-acre refuge in Keenesburg, CO (video). Peru, as you might recall, banned wild animal circus acts in 2011, with the bill’s legislative champion inviting “parliamentarians from all countries to follow the example of Peru and ban wild animals in circuses, ending the suffering of animals.” Congressman Jose Urquizo went on to say, “That will make us a more modern and civilized society” (source). It’s taken a while to shutdown and confiscate every last wild animal, but it has come to pass.

And so, a happy dance was in order for 33 big cats who’ve endured cramped cages, whips, and other brutalities:

But rescues don’t always have happy endings, and such is the tragic story of little Kwan, a young Malayan sun bear for whom rescue came too late–not that the good people at Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) didn’t throw their hearts and souls into saving her. From their Facebook page:

The next day, Kwan succumbed (Facebook post) to malnourishment and neglect. She had been fed rice and bananas. Her claws had grown so long that they curled into her footpads. She was partially hairless–the cruel irony of a sun bear deprived of the sun.

WFFT mentions “a temple” and diplomatically refers to the bear’s “owners,” but according to an article at Channel NewsAsia, the bear was a “heartwrenching find during a visit to Wat Ang Suwan, a Buddhist temple in Thailand’s western province of Prachuap Khiri Khan.” The bear’s “owners” are Buddhist monks who also keep captive Asiatic black bears–also in poor condition. According to the monks, “the wildlife had been rescued, and…they planned to open a small zoo within the temple’s compound.” (You might recall another Thai Buddhist temple that exploits tigers.)

According to PoD Volunteer, “It is very common in Thailand for people to donate wildlife to temples however the temples are far from ideal locations to keep wild animals and in many cases medical care and sufficient nutritional food is not available.”

Buddhism’s First Precept is to abstain from “killing or causing harm to other living beings. This is the fundamental ethical principle for Buddhism, and all the other precepts are elaborations of this” (source). According to Norm Phelps (“The Great Compassion: Buddhism & Animal Rights”), “Within the Buddhist community, this has never been a matter of dispute; all schools agree on it.”

Look at little Kwan’s pictures. I couldn’t bear to repost them here, but if you have a heart, be forewarned: it’ll break. And then consider the Buddha’s words: All beings…love life. See yourself in others. Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do?

Just another reminder, I suppose, of the universality of speciesism–across cultures, across beliefs.

Learn more:

  • Operation Spirit of Freedom: The historic ADI mission to save wild circus animals in Peru – 3-1/2 min. Vimeo and text
  • The Wild Animal Sanctuarywebsite; Facebook
  • “Wildlife officials: Famed Thai temple doesn’t abuse tigers,”here.
  • A happier sun bear rescue, here.

Comment on this post at Animal Blawg.