Trapping of furbearing animals is one of the oldest activities in Ontario. Commercial trapping dates back to the 16th century, with the arrival of European explorers and settlers. Long before that, trapping was a way of life for many aboriginal peoples.
Today, trapping remains a socially and economically important activity for many people in Ontario. The province is considered one of the world's leading suppliers of wild fur. Trapping also plays an important role in current wildlife management.
If managed wisely, wildlife is a renewable resource that can replenish itself. Sound management practices, along with humane trapping, can ensure healthy wildlife populations and habitat. These practices can also ensure long-term social and economic benefits, particularly in remote northern communities.
Ontario's Biodiversity Strategy is about protecting what sustains us - our collective life support system. The strategy recognizes trappers' commitment to conservation as a key feature of sustainable wildlife management.
Trapping in Ontario is governed by regulations and policies administered by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR). MNR uses a variety of management tools to regulate harvests and maintain healthy populations. These tools include:
- Mandatory trapper education
- Trapping licenses
- Open and closed trapping seasons
- Harvest quotas
- Registered trapline areas
- Mandatory Harvest Reporting.
To qualify for a license, trappers must successfully complete the Fur Harvest, Fur Management and Conservation Course. The course is administered by the ministry and delivered cooperatively by trapper organizations. The course emphasizes safe and humane trapping, survival skills, good pelt preparation and sustainable management practices.
Did you know ... many trappers are also anglers, hunters, guides and prospectors? Since they spend so much of their time on the land, trappers are the "eyes and ears of the land": able to note subtle changes in wildlife and habitat that can occur over time. Their observations assist in monitoring and assessment activities that support sound wildlife management.
Every trapper must purchase a licence and have it renewed every year. Each licence has a unique number identifying the trapper and where he or she traps. This system is the basis for collecting harvest information. This information helps monitor animal populations, and is used to set seasons and harvest quotas.
Furbearers may be trapped only during open seasons. In the early 1900s, seasons were established to prevent harvesting at times of the year when pelts are not "prime" and to avoid harvesting when young furbearers are dependent on their parents for survival.
Harvest quotas define the maximum number of animals a trapper is allowed to harvest. These levels are based on knowledge of each species' life history. Annual quotas are set for any species that could be affected by over or under harvesting. To guard against under-harvesting of Beaver for example, trappers are required to take at least 75% of the Beaver quota assigned to them. This reduces the possibility of stress, disease and human-wildlife conflicts such as flooding problems and tree damage caused by Beavers.
Registered Trapline Areas
In Ontario, Crown land is divided into more than 2,800 registered areas called traplines. Every trapper on Crown land is assigned a specific trapline and given the exclusive rights for that area. Each trapper can then manage the furbearer resources on a long-term, sustainable basis. This encourages close co-operation between the trapper and MNR wildlife managers. This co-operation is key to the success of Ontario's fur management program.
A great deal of trapping in Ontario takes place on private property, and landowners have a valuable role to play. Trapping on private land requires the permission of the landowner. Respect for private property, good landowner relations and public understanding are the keys to ensuring that Ontario's trappers continue to reap an abundant harvest from Ontario's vast areas of privately held land.
Ongoing research provides a sound biological basis for fur management. Research can provide a better knowledge of animal behaviour, and improve wildlife management techniques.
Trappers are on the front line of monitoring the province's furbearers and their habitats. Trappers provide vital information on wildlife through cooperative scientific studies and in mandatory year-end trapper harvest reports. These reports specify the numbers and species of animals harvested. These harvest records are in addition to reporting information on:
- Population and distribution trends
- Scientific research (e.g., MNR rabies program)
- The study and monitoring of parasites and wildlife diseases
- Compliance with harvest quotas
- Monitoring the legality of Canadian pelts marketed internationally.
Trappers and Wildlife Management
The basic element in fur management is co-operation. Trappers, as individuals and through their local and provincial trappers' councils and organizations, work with ministry staff in developing sound wildlife management practices.
Trappers support Fish and Wildlife Programs
Trappers contribute financially to wildlife management efforts. Money from trapping licence fees and royalties from sales help fund wildlife conservation and monitoring programs throughout Ontario.
Wildlife management can help reduce conflicts between people and wildlife. Examples of situations where management efforts may be of benefit include reducing Coyote predation on livestock, and rabies control. Some furbearers can significantly alter habitat through actions such as dam-building (Beavers) or depletion of prey species (Fishers, Lynx). Others can create problems in and around human dwellings such as Raccoons and Striped Skunks in garbage bins.
In areas where a population of furbearing mammals (e.g., Beaver) is high, conflicts with other animals and with people may occur. For instance, Beaver dams can cause flooding, and affect farming, forestry and roadways. Management of furbearing populations by trapping can help reduce problems arising from overpopulation including disease, starvation, and conflicts between wildlife and humans. The MNR assists in these situations by helping farmers and municipalities locate trappers to help with Beaver removal.
- The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act (S.O. 1997 c 41) provides the legislative framework for the management and protection of furbearers in Ontario. It includes a List of Furbearers of Ontario (twenty-two species of furbearers and their habitats are found throughout the province). These are defined under Schedule 1 of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, S.O. 1997 and O. Reg. 669/98.
- The Crown Forest Sustainability Act indirectly provides for the habitat needs of most furbearers in crown forests.
- The Provincial Policy Statement for the Protection of Natural Heritage Features (Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, 1997) was issued under the Planning Act. The Provincial Policy Statement provides for the protection of significant wildlife habitat as well as other natural heritage features (e.g. wetlands, forests, endangered/ threatened species habitat, corridors) on lands within organized municipalities in the province. The majority of lands in the area covered by the Planning Act are privately owned.
- The Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards directs the testing and certification of trapping systems used in Ontario. The Fur Institute of Canada coordinates trap testing activities on behalf of Canada's provinces and territories. Canadian trappers employ the most up-to-date and humane trapping devices available.