Notes on the Furbearer Conservation Workshop
Four Points Sheraton Hotel
June 4, 2005
Conservation Committee Chair Chris Heydon welcomed the 90 guests and delegates to the first Furbearer Conservation Workshop hosted by the Fur Institute of Canada. He provided a brief overview of the Institute’s emerging conservation program. He thanked the Canadian Forest Service for their financial support and indicated that he hoped this would be the beginning of a long-lasting partnership. He then outlined the workshop objectives as:
Mike Slivitzky from Canada’s Model Forest Program Secretariat provided welcome comments from the Canadian Forest Service and expressed his personal observation on the need and value of face-to-face dialogue between interests. He indicated that between foresters and trappers there was clearly the opportunity for a win/win conservation solution to existing issues.
Cade Libby, Furbearer Management Biologist, New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources, outlined the current New Brunswick fur harvester survey. This survey, the first in ten years, was needed to prepare for potential policy/legislative changes associated with the implementation of the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS) in 2007. There are currently 1,000 trappers in New Brunswick (down from 3,000 a few decades ago) who trap 17 furbearing species for approximately one million dollars worth of fur exported annually. The Province has a database on each trapper and monitors fur harvest with data from export permits and auction houses. Trappers also provide information through voluntary and mandatory carcass collections used to determine the status of furbearers. The Province has also developed a winter track transect survey as a harvest-independent monitoring system which helps determine the distribution and relative abundance of furbearers. The winter transect lines are randomly selected throughout the province and are approximately 3 km in length. To prepare for 2007, a new trapper survey was developed which included questions on trap ownership, use, trapper demographics and harvest information. The trapper survey was mailed initially to trappers and then follow-ups were conducted by telephone. The province developed and tested the survey in cooperation with local trapper organizations. There was approximately an 82% return on the surveys. Of these respondents, 47% filled in the mailed questionnaire and 53% responded through a follow-up telephone interview (that took 7 staff a week of evenings). The results included:
This latter point is critical for agencies, including the New Brunswick Government, to consider in designing automated license systems. During the subsequent discussion period, it was pointed out that British Columbia’s automated system was modified for this reason.
Dr. Russ Mason, Science Advisor for the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (IAFWA), spoke on the potential role of the US Geological Survey National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) in assisting in science-based wildlife management decisions in the United States and Canada. This is a data sharing system which would be helpful in the development of mandatory state and regional biodiversity management plans that have a requirement of quantifying program results. It is intended to increase information availability, linking databases and monitoring programs of government, industry and non-government interests. The program has geographic (e.g., state and regional), thematic (e.g., invasive species), and, biological (e.g., biodiversity information including furbearers) nodes. Dr. Mason indicated that there is a recent initiative to develop a northeastern regional node that would include eastern Canada and there was interest to include furbearer information. He indicated that this program was:
Dr. Mason indicated that Marcia McNiff was the Northeast Coordinator of NBII. During the subsequent discussion period, it was recognized that NatureServe is not linked to this NE regional program and that this initiative appears to have more direct value to government agencies than the trapper community. However, any innovation which has potential to improve the effectiveness of the management of natural resources also benefits the users of those resources. Subsequent to the workshop, and for reasons that remain unclear to IAFWA, NBII withdrew its promise of support for a technical furbearer project. This abrupt change could represent a rethinking within USGS about the relevance of the NBII to the USGS mission, or perhaps more likely, movement by NBII away from active support of wildlife management agencies. Dr. Mason will meet with Mike O’Brien, Fur Manager, Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources, at IAFWA’s annual meeting in September 2005, to discuss alternative strategies to foster collaboration and data sharing among furbearer biologists.
Dr. Justina Ray, Director of Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, spoke on the value of trapper knowledge and skills in science programs. She indicated that the strong links between harvesters and wildlife managers that formed the foundation of the discipline of wildlife management weakened in the 1970s with the increase in diversity of interest groups and “stakeholders”, rise of animal rights, general decrease in trapping and the increase in professional staff and technology. She further pointed out that there needs to be a much stronger link based on current trends including:
Dr. Ray then described two levels of current trapper involvement in management:
At the same time, Dr. Ray recognized the limitations associated with the distrust of outsiders/scientists, the different means of collecting data by different institutions and the reduced number of trappers in many areas. The considerable discussion following her presentation raised several points. Firstly, there are differences between USA and Canada regarding data availability and sharing at regional scales necessary for addressing cross border issues, including biodiversity, invasive species and disease. Secondly, there needs to be much greater recognition of trappers’ conservation efforts and contributions to science. Finally, not only do trappers provide considerable practical knowledge on wildlife species, habitats and factors affecting populations, the value of which is now clearly recognized by government wildlife management agencies as well as many NGOs, such as COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada), but they can also carry out long-term data collection efforts that are beyond the capacity of many individual researchers.
Dr. John Fryxell, University of Guelph indicated that this is an important topic based on the acceptance of this approach in resource management and land-use decisions. To illustrate, he identified that marten are a legally defined indicator of forest health in Ontario, which has resulted in the establishment of core areas within logged areas. These areas are to comprise approximately 10% of a Forest Management Unit and are largely mature conifer habitat. His research centred on the extent that these core areas provide a source of marten to surrounding areas after logging. His observations included:
Dr. Fryxell then emphasized the importance of ecosystem knowledge by elaborating on the linkages between mast crops in one year and the abundance of prey the following year that subsequently affects marten survival and recruitment. He concluded by emphasizing that this form of knowledge is useful in adjusting harvest levels through quotas but only if there is a built-in local knowledge component. Discussion suggested that recent industrial logging provides less habitat, that snow depth and ice conditions may be the most limiting factor and that there is still no clear insight on the minimum effective size and configuration of a core/micro-habitat for a healthy marten population.
Three members of the Manitoba Model Forest/Tembec trapper management program, Stuart Jansson, Manitoba Trappers Association, Mike Waldram, Manitoba Model Forest, and, Robert Yatkowsky, Tembec Forest Resources, spoke on the developing cooperative forester/trapper forestry management model in eastern Manitoba. It was obvious that past conflicts could only be resolved through effective communication among the parties. The Manitoba Model Forest was pivotal in bringing the parties together with a strategy of identifying important elements within each trapline. This inventory provides the basis of maps for each of the 60 traplines showing buffers around trails and cabin sites as well as important wildlife areas. At the same time, this inventory permitted discussion on the timing of harvests, maximum cutblock size, use of herbicides, road use restrictions and compensation. Tembec has hosted workshops to provide information on different programs such as Forest Stewardship Certification requirements and have developed best practice manuals with other conservation interests. Their policy is to involve trappers in forest management planning through a detailed notification process starting three years before harvest. The Manitoba Model Forest has now started to develop a best practice manual similar to the guideline for environmentally responsible forest operations in Manitoba for forest operators. Their objective is to develop a manual for trappers and forestry companies to use through a partnership with not only Tembec and the Fur Institute of Canada, but also oil and gas, mining and hydro interests. To date, they have held a workshop and hired a summer student to collect background information. They concluded by asking the audience to provide comments on the proposed table of contents of this future manual. During the discussion period, there was obvious support for this approach. In addition, it was noted that in British Columbia all employees of forest industries are encouraged to attend trapper-training programs to ensure that they understand and appreciate trappers’ concerns.
Chris Heydon provided the initial concluding remarks by indicating that the common and underlying theme in all these presentations was the importance of trappers’ knowledge and commitment to conservation. Subsequently, two speakers made specific recommendations to the Conservation Committee:
Mr. Heydon indicated that the Conservation Committee was committed to recognize trappers’ contributions to conservation (e.g., annual conservation award); circulate information in usable form to the trapping community (e.g., a guide for trappers, furbearer and forest managers); and, coordinate programs at the national level.
Dr. Brenda McAfee also provided concluding remarks by congratulating the Fur Institute of Canada on this successful workshop. She noted that the four participants from the sponsoring agency, the Canadian Forest Service representing Canada’s Model Forest Program Secretariat, the National Forestry Database Program and the Forest Science Division, were interested to learn more about the potential for biological information collected by the Fur Institute of Canada to contribute to national and international reporting commitments on biodiversity. She emphasized that there was a need for monitoring biodiversity and for information on biological resources by the forest community. The information that the Fur Institute of Canada assembles through trapper surveys could fill some of the existing information gaps. There may also be opportunities to work with other groups active in reporting on biodiversity, such as NatureServe Canada, the Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility, the Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Network and the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers Task Force on Biodiversity and Climate Change.
The Fur Institute of Canada would like to recognize the outstanding presenters for their well researched and pertinent lectures, the Canadian Forest Service of Natural Resources Canada for sponsoring the workshop and the workshop guests from across Canada for their participation.