Trapping wild animals for fur is a way of life that goes back thousands of years in Maine, and the state is considering new ways to manage the declining business.

Maine trappers harvest mammals such as foxes, beavers and muskrats for their fur. The trapping trade has slowed in recent years as a result of depressed international prices and an aging workforce.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is gathering feedback from trappers and others across the state as part of an effort to examine and possibly change the way it manages the animals. Management is also important to prevent the spread of diseases such as rabies and to avert dangerous encounters between animals and people, said Nate Webb, a biologist with the department.

“Everything is on the table,” Webb said. “We’re going to be talking about research priorities for these species. Habitat considerations. It’s not just about consumptive use or hunting and trapping.”

The subject of wild animal trapping frequently leads to conflicts between trappers and fur buyers and animal welfare advocates.

Neil Olson, a Bethel-based fur buyer, said the state needs to encourage more young people to get involved in trapping to keep the industry going. However, the industry has long had to contend with activists who believe the practice is unnecessary, and the state’s attempt to update the rules will be no different, he said.

“They’ll open up a can of worms. There’s a lot of people that don’t hunt, fish or trap that don’t like it,” Olson said.

Karen Coker, director of the animal advocacy group WildWatch Maine, said she feels the state has long ignored the anti-trapping movement. She described the process as “not an honest debate,” because the state doesn’t consider arguments that trapping is inhumane.

“I do believe the department is genuinely interested in how the public views these animals and the trapping enterprise, but not because it has an interest in shifting its policies to accommodate public interests,” Coker said. “It simply needs to know because it helps them craft their messaging to make trapping more palatable.”

The state held a series of public meetings about furbearer management in early December and collected comments online. The process of updating Maine’s rules about furbearing animals will likely take three to four years in total, Webb said.

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