By Shawn Perich
In August, the Minnesota Forest Zone Trappers Association is holding its third annual convention and gun show at the Embarrass Area Fairgrounds. Scheduled for August 9-11, the family-friendly event includes a full-day trapper’s education course, as well as demonstrations of trapping and skinning techniques. The convention is a place where trappers and nontrappers alike are going to learn something, which is the group’s intent.
To learn more about the MFZTA, I spoke via conference call with three founding members: president Ken Wainionpaa, board member Russ Sikkila and Ray Sogard, general organizer. The three men immediately pointed out that they are members of the statewide Minnesota Trappers Association, which has about 2,500 members out of about 8,000 licensed trappers statewide. However, some northern trappers felt a separate group was needed to address northern Minnesota trapping concerns. In three years, the MFTZA has grown about 500 members.
The DNR divides trapping in Minnesota into two zones: Forest and Farmland. The differences between the two zones are significant. For starters, the north experiences an earlier freeze-up, limiting the length of time northern trappers can set for water-oriented furbearers such as mink and muskrat. The northern zone also supports boreal furbearers such as pine marten and fisher, as well as high profile species like lynx and wolves. The entire northeastern corner of the state is designated a Lynx Zone, where special trapping regulations are intended to prevent unwanted catches of the protected species.
But the biggest difference between north and south is access to land. The vast majority of the state’s public land is within the forest zone, where trappers’ opportunities are nearly unlimited. In the south, trappers must have permission to trap on private land or confine themselves to ditches and culverts within the public road right-of-way.
While most trapping occurs relatively close to home, the north’s wealth of public land attracts travelling trappers. Known in trapping circles as “long liners,” these professionals need to catch lots of animals in order to turn a profit. Hence they cover a lot of ground and set a lot of traps. In doing so, they may come into conflict with other trappers.
Some professional long-liners travel from state to state. Minnesota doesn’t allow nonresident trapping. This prevents Minnesotans from trapping in other states that allow nonresident trappers based on reciprocity. Simply put, nonresidents are allowed to trap if their home state also allows nonresident trapping.
MFTZA defends Minnesota’s status quo, where only residents are permitted to trap. The organization formed essentially to give northern trappers a voice in issue when nonresident trapping was proposed a few years ago. The MFZTA believes it takes dedication and knowledge to trap in the Forest Zone, where trappers must not only be familiar with specific trapping rules, but also must understand the rules governing related public activities, such as ATV use.
Talking to the three men, it was readily apparent that while trapping has occurred in the north for centuries, it continues to evolve and reflect the times. Not only have trapping rules changed, but traps and trapping methods have improved. Trapping education is now mandatory for young trappers just getting started, but even veterans need to stay up to speed.
“When we hold the trapping class at the convention, we see as many adults as kids,” Sogard said. “Some are parents, but other trappers take the class, too.”
Occurring all day Saturday during the convention, the trapper education class is free. All costs are covered by the MTA and MFZTA. Also at the convention will be a taxidermy display of northern Minnesota furbearers and other wildlife, including a lynx/bobcat hybrid, a Minnesota lynx and a wolverine. Booths, displays and the gun show are held in Timber Hall at the fairground.
“There’s plenty to see and do at the convention,” Wainionpaa said. “And friendly people, too.”
While the nonresident trapping issue is no longer on a hot burner, the MFTZA is involved in other matters of concern. With DNR officials located at the regional office in Grand Rapids or at the St. Paul headquarters, the organization’s representatives often must travel to meetings.
“We work hard,” Sikkila said. “We put on a lot of miles on the road.”
Currently, trappers are trying to resolve the well-publicized issue of dogs being accidentally caught and killed with lethal bodygrip traps. MFTZA has met with DNR officials and the MTA to discuss possible solutions, including moving some trapping seasons to later dates to minimize conflicts with bird hunters and their dogs. That dogs are being killed in traps concerns trappers, too.
“We don’t have horns. When we hear of someone catching a dog, we’re sick about it, too,” said Sikkila. “A lot of us are dog owners.”
The MFZTA are also working with the DNR to develop consistent policies for what to do with animals collected via nuisance trapping, such as the removal of damage-causing beavers. Currently, policies or their interpretation may differ from one conservation officer to another.
To fund the organization’s efforts, an annual banquet is held in Hibbing, this year on Sept. 18 at VFW. For promotion, the group has informational booths at local sport shows, which is where they often meet and sign up new members. In just a few short years, the MFZTA has become a voice for northern trappers and they plan to continue to grow.