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New York has a long trapping history, dating back centuries when Native New Yorkers used traditional trapping methods to trap beaver, otter, bear and other species for food and fur. When Europeans arrived in New York, the North American fur trade with Europe took off. Many of New York's cities and towns, including the state capital of Albany, began as outposts focused on the trade of beaver pelts.
Around 10,000 New Yorkers continue this trapping tradition today. The 14 species of furbearing animals in New York are abundant and their populations are secure. DEC closely regulates trapping seasons to ensure the continued security of New York's furbearer populations. In addition, trappers continue to partner with DEC biologists to provide valuable information on elusive furbearers that would otherwise be impossible to get.
Trapping provides many important benefits to New Yorkers, including:
- Reducing property damage from nuisance wildlife
- A sustainable source of food, fur and income to trappers and people involved in the industry
- Protecting public health and safety (e.g., flooding, diseases)
- Protection of rare and endangered species, such as federally-endangered piping plovers
- Assists with the scientific monitoring of furbearer populations through harvest reporting and submitting biological samples
For more information on trapping, please read Trapping and Furbearer Management in North American Wildlife Conservation (PDF). It is a compilation of the knowledge, insights, and experiences of professional wildlife biologists who are responsible for the conservation of wildlife resources throughout the United States and Canada. It is published by the Northeast Section of The Wildlife Society.
Check-out the most recent New York Furbearer Update (PDF, 7.6MB) for the latest news regarding the furbearer management program in New York!
Trapper Mentoring Program
If you are under 12 years old:
Under the Trapper Mentoring Program you may accompany and assist a licensed trapper who has at least 3 years of trapping experience. You must follow these guidelines:
- The licensed trapper may be a parent or legal guardian, or someone 18 years or older and designated in writing on the Mentored Youth Hunter and Trapper Permission Form (PDF).
- You may assist the licensed trapper in all aspects of trapping (except the discharging of a firearm) without possessing a trapping license.
- If you wish to trap on your own once you're 12 years old, you will need to successfully complete New York's Trapper Education Program. You are permitted to take this course prior to your 12th birthday.
Furbearer Management and Research
See below for recent and ongoing research projects that DEC is conducting on furbearing species in New York. Many of these projects would be impossible with the efforts of trappers.
River Otter Reintroduction & Occurrence in New York
Prior to the 1990s, river otter were absent from most of central and western New York. That all changed between 1995-2001, when DEC worked in collaboration with trappers and other private stakeholders to restore river otter to this area. With the help of dedicated trappers, 279 otter were reintroduced to 16 different sites in the central and western parts of the state.
To evaluate the success of this effort and to gain a better understanding of otter distribution and abundance throughout New York, in 2017 and 2018 DEC staff conducted over 2,000 winter sign surveys across the state. During these surveys, biologists and technicians looked for otter tracks, latrines, and other signs of otter presence on the landscape. These surveys found that otter were well-established across the entire state and could be found in almost all suitable habitat.
DEC staff are repeating these winter sign surveys to get another snapshot of the otter population. We will be able to compare the results from this winter to the previous surveys, allowing us to get a better idea of otter population trend. This information will help us better guide otter management into the future.
Help us keep track of otter populations by reporting any otter sightings on our Furbearer Sighting Survey.
Fisher Survival and Reproduction in the Northern Zone
DEC staff, in partnership with researchers from SUNY ESF, are conducting a study to better understand fisher population dynamics and survival across the Northern Zone. With the help of trappers, we have live-captured over 180 fisher since the project began in 2017. Adult females are fitted with GPS collars to locate and monitor dens and reproduction. When a den is located, DEC staff monitor the area with trail cameras to better understand kit production and survival. We are currently monitoring over 60 collared fisher, including several adult females with kits. Ultimately, these data will help us better understand the population dynamics of fisher in the Northern Zone, and will be used to inform season setting and ensure sustainable harvest opportunities for this important furbearer resource.
Fisher Population Monitoring
Once nearly extirpated from New York, fisher have made a remarkable comeback in recent years. To better inform management decisions for this species, DEC staff are monitoring fisher occurrence in central and western New York using camera trap surveys. In addition to monitoring over 600 camera sites, DEC is also using non-invasive techniques to collect DNA from fisher. For this work, a strip of gun brushes is attached to a tree underneath bait. When fisher brush against the gun brushes trying to get to the bait, it leaves behind hair. From the hair samples, we can identify individual fisher, allowing us to estimate fisher abundance and density in this area.
The first round of surveys was conducted between 2013 and 2015. These surveys were repeated between 2019 and 2021. DEC has partnered with Cornell University to analyze these data and compare density estimates between the two time periods. This information will allow us to evaluate the impact of the limited trapping season opened in 2016, as well as make recommendations for potential season changes or new harvest opportunities.
In addition to the camera work, fisher trappers across New York have been providing DEC with valuable biological samples that are furthering our understanding of the elusive fisher. Some of this information includes:
- Population age structure from tooth samples.
- Using a process known as cementum aging, it is possible to tell the age of a fisher from tooth samples. From samples collected between 2016 and 2020, we have found that about 50% of the fisher harvest is made up of young-of-the-year. The oldest fisher trapped during this time period was an 11.5-year-old male from Chautauqua County.
- Diet analysis from stomach samples.
- When trappers turn in fisher carcasses, the stomachs are sent to Finger Lakes Community College to analyze what the fisher were eating. This research is ongoing, but so far over 500 fisher stomachs have been examined. The most common diet item is small mammals (mice & voles; found in 21% of stomachs), followed by fruit (found in 20% of stomachs), and then squirrels & chipmunks (found in 10% of stomachs). Despite commonly being blamed for predation on turkeys, only one fisher had turkey parts in their stomach.
- Determining the reproductive capacity of fisher.
- Reproductive tracts of female fisher are sent to Cornell University's Wildlife Health Lab. There, veterinarians are investigating placental scars and corpora lutea to estimate how many young a female had earlier that year. These data will be used to see if there is any difference in reproductive potential between areas.
- Monitoring for anticoagulant rodenticides.
- New York is partnering with other Northeastern states to investigate the impacts of anticoagulant rodenticides (ARs) on fisher populations. Partners at SUNY ESF are analyzing liver samples and reproductive tracts of trapper-submitted carcasses to get an idea of baseline AR levels and investigate whether these toxins may negatively impact productivity. A preliminary analysis found ARs present in nearly 80% of New York samples.
Bobcats in Central and Western New York
Observations by hunters, trappers, hikers, farmers, trail camera users, and others who spend time outdoors clearly indicate that bobcat populations are increasing and have expanded beyond their historic core range in the Taconic, Catskill, and Adirondack mountains. Bobcat population trends in New York reflect general trends across the United States, as many other states have reported increasing bobcat populations.
With bobcat populations growing throughout the state, a limited harvest season was opened in portions of Central and Western New York starting in 2013. Between 2013 and 2015, all hunters and trappers wanting to pursue bobcats in the Harvest Expansion Area (HEA) had to apply for a special permit and complete a hunting and/or trapping activity log. In addition, DEC collected teeth from all harvested bobcats during this time period.
The age structure of a population is believed to reflect the intensity of harvest, with younger animals (< 2 years old) dominating heavily exploited populations. To evaluate the impacts of the bobcat season in the HEA, DEC staff in partnership with Cornell University estimated survivorship and population growth rate of this population over the first several years of harvest. Using the harvest age structure, we estimated that the bobcat population in the HEA was stable or slightly growing. DEC will continue to monitor harvest data and conduct research to monitor the bobcat population in Central and Western New York and evaluate the potential for additional harvest opportunities.
American Marten in New York
The American marten, also commonly referred to as the pine marten, are of management concern given their limited range and trapping vulnerability in New York. After population recovery through the middle part of the 20th century, a limited trapping season was opened in 1978 in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks. As their population continued to grow, sightings from trappers and the general public led to expanded trapping opportunities in other areas of the central Adirondacks as well as an increase in the limit of the number of marten a trapper may harvest in a year.
Since they are a species of management concern, the marten harvest has been closely monitored since a regulated trapping season was opened. Trappers were required to submit carcasses of harvested marten from 1978 to 2020, as well as submit a trapping activity log from 2003 to present. These data have proven invaluable in regard to marten management. Some projects related to marten are described below.
- Marten distribution in New York
- Historically, marten were largely restricted to the High Peaks region. However, their population has grown and distribution has expanded throughout the early 21st century. Today, marten can be found throughout a large chunk of the Adirondacks. Collecting harvest locations from trappers has allowed us to map the expansion of marten distribution over time and expand harvest opportunities. In addition, these data allow us to gain insights into specific habitat characteristics marten prefer and hypothesize which other areas of the region and state may be suitable for marten as their population continues to grow.
- Harvest Vulnerability
- Collecting trapper effort data has allowed us to look into how susceptible marten are to harvest each year. The marten harvest has generally followed an annual cycle, with low harvests one year followed by a significantly higher harvest the following year. This trend is linked to the beech nut crop, which generally follows an every-other-year cycle. In years where the beech nut crop is high, food is abundant and the marten harvest is typically very low. In years when beech nuts are scarce, marten are much more vulnerable to trapping and the harvest can be up to 10x higher than the previous year!
- Home Range & Habitat Use
- From 2005-2011, DEC worked on a project to obtain more data on marten ecology. This work included live-trapping, radio collaring, and tracking male and female marten. From this work, we have been able to obtain home range estimates from marten in a variety of locations and habitats in the Adirondacks, as well as habitat use data within these home ranges from the snow tracking of collared marten during the winter months. This work has also shown that marten will expand their home range during non-beech nut years due to a decreased abundance of food. These data, coupled with modeling work to estimate the core and periphery marten range, are being used to estimate the overall population size of marten in New York.
- Population Demographics and Marten Diet
- Using the same techniques for fisher described above, we have been able to estimate the age structure of marten from carcasses submitted by trappers. When coupled with harvest location data from trapper activity logs, we are able to model the core marten range in the Adirondack mountains as well as what areas juvenile marten are dispersing into. Our age data has shown that in the year following a large beech nut crop, harvest vulnerability of all age and sex are higher than the year that a beech nut crop is present. Also of interest is that, during years with high beech nut crops, the harvest of 1.5 year old marten is higher than would be predicted, likely from the large pulse of reproduction in the spring following a beech nut crop.
- Researchers at SUNY-ESF, in conjunction with Department staff, analyzed stomach contents from harvested marten over a 3-year period. Results suggest that marten are much more omnivorous than previously thought, consuming a wide variety of food from small mammals and birds to fungi to fruit to nuts. Marten appear particularly fond of southern red-backed voles and shrews during non-beech nut years, and will actively consume beech nuts when available.
Trapping Harvest Data
A furbearer possession tag and subsequent pelt sealing is required for otter, bobcat, fisher, and marten. Data from pelt-sealed animals help DEC biologists track changes in the size and distribution of populations of these species and are one of the tools used in making management decisions.
Pelt-seal data for these species are also available by county and town:
- 2021-22 Pelt Seal Summary (PDF)
- 2020-21 Pelt Seal Summary (PDF)
- 2019-20 Pelt Seal Summary (PDF)
- 2018-19 Pelt Seal Summary (PDF)
- 2017-18 Pelt Seal Summary (PDF)
- 2016-17 Pelt Seal Summary (PDF)
- 2015-16 Pelt Seal Summary (PDF)
- 2014-15 Pelt Seal Summary (PDF)
- 2013-14 Pelt Seal Summary (PDF)
- 2012-13 Pelt Seal Summary (PDF)
- 2011-12 Pelt Seal Summary (PDF)