Fur flies over site tags

Field Editor

St. Paul A bill removing the site-tagging requirement for
trappers who catch pine marten and fisher, sponsored by a senator
whose husband had an allegedly untagged pine marten confiscated by
a conservation officer last December, has caused a rift between the
DNR and the Minnesota Trappers Association (MTA).

Gary Meis, MTA spokesman, said he believed the trappers and
state wildlife officials had reached a compromise agreement on
legislation that removed the site-tagging restriction with a
two-year sunset to allow the pine marten and fisher harvest to be
reviewed. If harvest of the two furbearers increased, the DNR would
either shorten the season or the site-tagging rule would be
re-instated.

Ed Boggess of DNR Wildlife says that Meis and bill sponsor Sen.
Pat Pariseau (R-Farmington) may have believed they’d reached
compromise in hallway conversations outside a Senate committee
hearing, but the DNR felt compelled to state its case when the bill
was heard in the House.

“The whole thing got confused,” Boggess says. “Gary feels like
it was a double-cross, but we felt like we hadn’t actually agreed
to it.”

Pine marten and fisher are two members of the weasel family that
live in the northwoods. Because they are relatively easy to catch
and have fur value that presently ranges from $20 to $40 or higher,
both species are popular with trappers.

Since pine marten and fisher populations were restored from low
levels during recent decades, the DNR considers both species
vulnerable to overharvest and sets a season bag limit. Trappers are
allowed four combined pine marten and fisher. The limit was raised
from two of each species by the Legislature last year, despite
objections from wildlife managers.

Because there is a season bag limit, trappers were required to
tag the animals at the site of capture. A similar requirement
exists for deer, wild turkey, and other wildlife with a season bag
limit.

Pine marten and fisher also must be registered with a DNR
conservation officer within 48 hours of the season closing. Without
the site tag, Boggess says, an individual can possess and transport
a limit of untagged animals. Because of the monetary value of
furbearers, removing the site tag requirement concerns the DNR.
Boggess said it has been well documented that some trappers use
tags issued to friends, neighbors, and kids to tag additional pine
marten and fisher. He says removing the site tag requirement will
make it easier for them to do so.

Meis, who receives complaints from trappers regarding the site
tag rule every year, views the situation differently. One issue is
the practicality of site tagging. The season is in early
December.

Animals captured in killing taps are likely frozen. Trappers
must push the metal tag through the eye socket and out the mouth of
the frozen animal. Meis says trappers have been ticketed for
bringing an animal back to their vehicle to work on affixing the
tag.

Another issue is the differences between the MTA and state
conservation officers regarding enforcement of the site tagging
rule. In some situations, particularly when children are involved,
the trappers believe enforcement is heavy handed.

“They (conservation officers) are treating every trapper as a
crook,” says Sen. Pariseau.

On Dec. 19, a conservation officer confiscated a pine marten
pelt from Pariseau’s husband, Kenneth, while registering fur at his
residence. He was charged with a gross misdemeanor in Dakota County
on three counts of unlawful tagging and possession of a pine
marten. Charges were filed May 23, after Sen. Pariseau’s bill
passed in the Legislature.

According to the complaint, Kenneth Pariseau told the officer
that his tag had ripped off the animal while he was removing it
from a stretching board and that he’d replaced it with a tag
belonging to his grandson. Another officer determined that the pelt
seemed too dry to have been taken during the 2000 trapping season.
The arresting officer states in the complaint: “Pariseau also told
me he did not care whether I registered the pine marten or not, but
that if I did not register the pine marten we would have a
conversation.'”

Meis says he was unaware of Pariseau’s husband’s situation when
he approached her about removing the site tag requirement. He was
simply responding to complaints from his membership following the
2000 season and direction from the MTA board regarding the site
tagging issue.

“This bill was not Senator Pariseau’s doing. It was ours,” Meis
says.

Both Meis and Boggess say Sen. Pariseau did not mention her
personal situation during the legislative debate.

Separately, the two men say they want to restore what was an
excellent working relationship between trappers and the DNR. Meis
has concerns, however, that a rift between trappers and the DNR
Division of Enforcement leadership may be widening. The Division
recently ceased a program where it donated confiscated fur that was
tanned at the cost of MTA to organizations, such as environmental
learning centers, to be used for displays and education. He is also
concerned that DNR Enforcement deferred investigation of trap theft
to the county sheriffs’ offices, because trap theft is covered by
the DNR’s trap tampering statute.

The Division of Enforcement refused to comment for this
story.

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