There are about 3,500 registered trappers in Alberta, says problem wildlife specialist Bill Abercrombie, and they play an important role in controlling wildlife.
“They do a lot of the heavy lifting as far as problem wildlife goes,” says Abercrombie.
In other words, the millions currently spent by municipalities, companies and individuals in dealing with beavers, coyotes, skunks, raccoons, foxes and the like would be even higher if trappers weren’t doing what they do.
(What we’re talking about, of course, are those wildlife encounters that Fish & Wildlife doesn’t, or can’t, deal with. Their resources are limited, and they tend to focus on large predators and game animals.)
“Trappers perform a critical role,” Abercrombie says. “In keeping numbers down, but it (trapping) also serves to keep large predators wary of humans.”
Hunting does that too, of course. Where wild animals have no fear of humans is where problems crop up. Abercrombie sees a lot of those.
Where animals have lost their fear of humans, “it usually doesn’t work out well,” for the humans or the animals, he says.
Abercrombie is the owner of Animal Damage Control, based in Fort Saskatchewan. It operates all over the province, doing what he calls “conflict resolution,” between people and wild animals. In northern Alberta, most of his clients are industrial.
“People in northern Alberta tend to take care of their own problem unless it’s in an urban centre,” he says.
Industry is different. Abercrombie has been called to take care of beavers that are flooding work sites, ravens that are interfering with electronic controls and bears that are hanging around bush camps. Most of it, he says, does not involve lethal force. Capturing and removing is more the thing.
One big difference between operating rurally and in large urban centres is in the cities, you have to be very cautious. What might take a few hours around Slave Lake (say to remove some beavers) might take a couple of weeks in Edmonton, Abercrombie says.
Raccoons and skunks are big problem-causers in the cities, as are foxes, which Abercrombie says like to make meals of small pets.
One odd case involved an immigrant woman in Calgary who mistook the neighbourhood raccoons for cats and was feeding them.
“She let them into her house and was playing with them,” he says.
How about skunks?
“All the time!” says Abercrombie, and proceeds to tell about how a Leduc homeowner got sprayed by a skunk when he opened his patio door. The spray got into the heating system, spread through the house and pretty much ruined the place.
And the moral of the story?
Don’t encourage wild animals to feel safe around human habitation. Discourage it always. And appreciate the role of trappers in keeping wildlife wary of humans.