By DAVID RAINER
When Mike Sievering, supervising wildlife biologist for the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division in the west central district, started trapping seminars three years ago, he had no idea what kind of response would result.
With one seminar left in February, Sievering would have to rate the response as outstanding. The one seminar that started the phenomenon in 2007 has evolved into four programs a year.
“I was sitting and talking with Jackie Malone, the National Trappers Association’s Alabama representative, about how trapping is an art that’s dying and we’re losing kids,” Sievering said. “We talked about how we need to get these kids outdoors. We did the first seminar in ’07 at Swan Creek. I limit my classes to 20 because of the help needed to pull this off. I don’t have age limits. I’ve had 6-year-olds and 22-year-olds. I had two college co-eds that first year and they were trapping machines. They did better than the boys did.”
Each seminar lasts two-and-a-half days, always on weekends. Friday night is all classroom activity.
“We talk about the historical aspects of trapping and trapping responsibilities,” Sievering said. “We talk about trapping laws and regulations, fur-bearer management and biological information related to all fur-bearing animals in Alabama.”
Saturday’s session starts at 8 a.m. with discussion on different types of traps and snares, as well as how to prepare the traps and different anchoring systems. Then it’s on to preparing baits and lures, which Sievering says is an art in itself. Mid-morning, the students break into groups with mentors and go outside.
“All these guys helping me are volunteers,” Sievering said. “They are paid nothing. They are a part of the Alabama Trapper and Predator Association. USDA Wildlife Services helps a lot. We also have the Alabama Hunter Education Association and this year several representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, Alabama Forestry Commission and Alabama Cooperative Extension System help. It’s a joint effort among all these organizations to make this thing happen.
“Each mentor has two students, and I insist that a parent or guardian comes with the student. They seem to retain more and the parents seem to get more enjoyment than the kids a lot of times.”
The mentors discuss the different types of sets – water sets and land sets. After lunch, the students and mentors head to the trap site locations, either on private land where permission has been granted or on wildlife management areas. Students then set their own trap line of a between 6 and 12 traps per student. The next morning, the students and mentors get up before daylight, meet at a central location and then run the trap lines. After the animals are collected, the mentors demonstrate how to properly handle fur to prepare it for market.
“It’s a total package,” Sievering said. “Some people look at it and say there’s no way you can do these things. You can, but there’s a lot involved in it. What’s good about this program is we’ve had several state trapping organizations come to Alabama to see what we’re doing because it’s really a pilot program.
“We’ve had people from as far away as Illinois to volunteer their services to teach these kids. We’ve got one coming from New Jersey for our February class. It’s catching on.” Last year, Sievering and Malone received a national award from the National Trappers Association.
All accolades aside, Sievering said the benefits derived by the participating youth make it worth the effort.
“It’s a good deal for kids,” he said. “It gives them another opportunity to get out in the woods and experience something they’ve never experienced. It makes them better woodsmen because of the things they learn from these trappers.
“One thing I tell them during the program is the learning curve is cut down significantly for the students. I’ve got guys who volunteer who have trapped for 30-35 years and are willing to give that knowledge to a brand new student. I mean, it’s a good deal.”
In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s more than 6,000 trapping licenses were sold annually in Alabama. When the fur market crashed in the mid ‘80s, the license sales dropped dramatically. Last year there were about 450 licenses sold statewide.
“Because of that drop, we’re seeing a dramatic increase in predators – foxes, coyotes, raccoons – predators that are preying on game species,” Sievering said. “If you get a heavy predator population in an area, it’s not good for nesting turkeys. So we’re teaching the kids that predator management is part of this and helps balance the ecosystem. Trapping is a great wildlife management tool.”
Sievering and his volunteers also convey how much excitement trapping can generate.
“The thing about trapping, like I tell kids, ‘you know that feeling you get when you get up on Christmas morning, you can hardly wait?’” Sievering said. “Trapping is it’s just like that, because every day is Christmas morning. You never know what you’re going to catch. That excitement rolls through the kids to the parents. I’ve had them tell me they couldn’t sleep the night before because they were so excited about what they were going to catch. That makes me feel good, and it makes the mentors feel great, too.”
Another goal is to keep the practice of trapping from becoming a lost art.
“I can’t say it was almost gone, but it was dying a prolonged death,” Sievering said. “Everything in today’s world is a quick fix. You can sit there with your video games or computer and do whatever you want. It’s like we’re a society of instant gratification. This art was not being passed on. That’s why we sat down and said, ‘we’ve got to try to stop this before it’s gone. Guys like me in their 50s and 40s are the last generation that trapped. If it isn’t passed on to kids I think it’ll be gone, to be honest.”
Photo 1 (photo by Jeff Makemson) James Lord gives basic instruction about a leg-restraint trap during the trapping seminar. Photo 2 (photo by Ron Eakes) After basic instruction, students set their own trap lines during the Saturday afternoon of trapping school.