This week I want to explore a different sport than one that involves around a ball: the sport of trapping.
The first question that many might ask is trapping a sport? Yes, it is a sport that is licensed and regulated by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife in the same manner that they regulate bass fishing or deer hunting.
However, trapping as a sport, like many hunting activities, is in a serious decline and this is having an impact on our local beaver population.
Animal trapping or trapping is defined as the use of a device to remotely catch an animal. My focus is on the topic of fur trapping, which has become a hot topic in the western Kentucky coalfields.
From a historical perspective trapping was done for a variety of reasons including for food, fur trade, hunting, pest control and wildlife management. Trapping in this portion of the state includes trapping animals such as beavers, coyotes, bobcats, mink and muskrats.
Historically trappers in Kentucky hunt for two primary reasons: 1) the fur and 2) control the nuisance of certain animals such as the nuisance trapping we now see for coyotes here in Hopkins and Webster counties.
Locally, fur trapping hit a revival in late November and early December in Hopkins County under the leadership of Frank Williams, the Second District Commission member for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Williams recently noted in a speech to the Madisonville Lions Club, “I was getting a tremendous amount of complaints from property owners, farmers and other individuals of the tremendous damage that beavers were doing in Western Kentucky, particularly in Hopkins and Muhlenberg counties.”
Williams pointed out that the beaver population has exploded in our area and that there was a tremendous amount of damage to county roads, crop land and timber.
In fact, the Hopkins County Road Department estimated over a three-year period it has spent over $100,000 in replacement of gravel and grade work due to beaver damage.
With this tremendous damage occurring, Williams solicited the help of the United Trappers of Kentucky. This group is a statewide sportsmen’s organization of Kentucky fur trappers whose primary goal is the enhancement of trapping as a sport.
Unfortunately, trapping as a sport has been in tremendous decline. In the late 1980s there were over 4,000 licensed trappers in Kentucky.
Williams noted, “Currently we are selling about 2,200 trapping licenses a year but we estimate only about 500 active trappers.”
After Williams called, the United Trappers of Kentucky under the leadership of President Chet Hayes and Vice President Steven Rickard assembled a group of volunteers to come to Hopkins and Muhlenberg counties. Because of the success in beaver trapping here the group will go to Union County this March.
During the period of Nov. 26-28, 2017, the United Trappers of Kentucky harvested 186 beavers and Hopkins County Fiscal Court employees harvested another 20 for 206 trapped beavers.
Williams and the local road department, farmers and property owners were very pleased and it is hoped that this will spur some interest in fur trappers returning next year.
Williams noted the crux of the problem of an exploding beaver population is based upon the price of beaver pelt.
Williams stated, “A beaver pelt today will sell for between $10 to $12 whereas 20, 25 years ago it sold for $35 to $50.”
There is still a market in Russia for beaver pelt but it has declined.
In fact, the market for other fur has also declined, with raccoons averaging $5 a pelt, muskrat about $3 a pelt and the once very expensive mink is now about $8 a pelt as most minks that are used in mink furs are today grown in mink farms in Israel.
The decline in the price for the pelts along with the general decline in hunting has caused a tremendous decline in fur trappers and therefore led to many of the problems we are seeing today with beavers.
Williams has a basic solution to the beaver problem stating, “We need to have a subsidized program of some manner to encourage fur trapping as a sport and have fur trapping come back as a popular sport. If there are trappers out there, they will control the beavers and in the long run this will help road departments, taxpayers, crop owners and timber land owners.”
Whether we live in a city or in rural parts of western Kentucky beavers and fur trapping can have an economic impact on us.