Last fall, I began serving on the Transylvania County Natural Resource Council. This Council is advisory to our County Commission. It has been a hugely enriching experience, and by this I mean not that I get paid for this work, but that it has been very interesting to see where we are, as a county, in integrating environmental resource needs into the systems of government.
So this last meeting, we were asked, rather abruptly, to discuss the trapping of foxes. At the time of the meeting, Transylvania had no local laws on trapping of foxes--which essentially means that no foxes could be trapped. Evidently, the Commissioners had been approached to encourage the passage of such a law.
My research since that time has meant that I probably would not have voted the way I did. However, there is some stuff here that needs to see the light of day, so that is what this post is about.
Looking at the statement above, you might wonder how a state would end up with 27 different fox hunting seasons. Especially when there is only one deer, bear, turkey and oh-so-many-more seasons. These species that I have listed are categorized as "game." Fox are also classified as game, but, once upon a time, they were also categorized as "fur-bearing." Meaning that they could be trapped like bobcats, raccoons and opossums. They are no longer categorized as "fur-bearing." Evidently, this was to make easier to shoehorn them into a special class.
Here's the next bit (also from the NC Wildlife Resource Commission:
"The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) has very limited authority to regulate fox hunting and trapping seasons. Only the General Assembly has the authority to allow fox trapping in a county through passage of a local law. The North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) has elected to classify foxes only as a game animals rather than game and furbearers as bobcat, opossum and raccoon are designated (§ 113 291.4). This classification means that the WRC may not allow foxes to be taken by trapping during regular trapping seasons.
There are numerous session laws that have been approved by the
NCGA relating to foxes. Many of these laws passed by the NCGA
apply only to a specific county, counties or parts of counties and
generally are referred to as “local laws”. The number and complexity
of the “local laws” enacted by the NCGA over the past 40 years which allow the taking of foxes with weapons and traps make them unsuitable to include in the annual regulations digest, thus this separate document was created."
Now why, do you imagine, would foxes be taken out of a classification that would allow them to be trapped and hunted in a regular season? Could it, perhaps, be due to special interests? Well, of course it could. Namely, those who own and operate Controlled Hunting Preserves.
"A Controlled Fox Hunting Preserve Operators License authorizes the Operator and their guests to hunt foxes and coyotes at any time within the licensed preserves fenced acreage."
The NC Wildlife Resource Commission (NCWRC) does more than issue hunting licenses. It assesses the size and health of wildlife populations, and then uses this information during hunting seasons to control the size of the "take" in a given season. So, since our state legislators in the past had been effectively lobbied to take the regulation of foxes away from the NCWRC, this assessment of population is not done, and there is no limit on the number of foxes that can be taken.
So what are the rules for those with Controlled Fox Hunting Preserves?
"For commercial purposes of fox and coyote hunting, the preserve must be greater than or equal to 500 acres, with the exception of smaller areas containing terrain and topographical features that offer escape cover. The preserve must also be operated following the Rules of 15A NCAC 10H .1202-.1207.
An examination and inspection of the preserve by Wildlife Resources Commission may be conducted at any time.
An accurate record, including all purchase records and billing information for all foxes and coyotes, must be maintained and available for inspection by an authorized Commission personnel upon request. It is illegal to import into North Carolina any foxes or coyotes to stock a Controlled Fox Hunting Preserve."
Not too bad, so far. Then we get to this part:
"Fox Tags: It is unlawful to buy, sell, barter, trade, or otherwise transfer possession or ownership of the carcass or pelt of any fox without having affixed to such carcass or pelt an individual fox tag. ... A fox tag or tags must be procured before taking foxes by any method designed to kill foxes ...
Fox Tag Exemptions: Licensed trappers are exempt from tagging requirements if live-trapped foxes are trapped for purpose of sale to licensed controlled fox hunting preserves."
At our most recent meeting, the Council's first recommendation to the Commission was to approach our local representatives about creating statewide legislation on foxes, to clean up the 27 (28 if you count the Controlled Preserve exemption) different hunting seasons, and to restore the NC Wildlife Resource Commission's authority to regulate fox hunting and trapping, as it does for every other game species in the state. (This legislation has been drafted, but is reportedly "stuck in committee.") I would stick with that vote. Without the active management of the NCWRC, we as a state have abdicated responsibility for this species just to benefit those who would like the ability to hunt all year, with no control over how many fox are taken.
The second recommendation we made was for Commissioners, in the interim period where there is no statewide legislation, to adopt a law nearly identical to that of neighboring Hendersonville County--the idea being that we should at least attempt to keep down the number of DIFFERENT hunting seasons for foxes. Knowing now that a licensed trapper would have no limit on his take of foxes for sale to preserves-- this is a vote I would take back.
The NCWRC assesses suitability of habitat and works with the Forest Service and others to manage forests to provide for species that are in decline--and this includes non-game species, as well. They are the only agency with the knowledge to equitably manage wildlife resources in this state, and, therefore, the only agency that should be determining the numbers of foxes that can be taken in a given year. We should let them do their job.