MBHA to team with college welders to build bear traps for the DNR
By Victor Skinner
GAYLORD – The Michigan Bear Hunters Association is launching a new project to help supply the Michigan Department of Natural Resources with additional bear traps to encourage officials to relocate animals causing trouble.
MBHA Director Bill Austin said the effort is part of the organization’s broader efforts to help address nuisance bear complaints, which have been on the rise in some areas of the state, particularly along the southern range of Michigan bear habitat where residents are less accustomed to them.
“We thought if we supplied (the DNR) with some of the good bear traps, they’ll trap them and haul them off,” rather than kill problem bears, Austin said. “Right now, we have two traps in the budget for this year, but we might get one if we’re lucky.”
“We picked up a trap (from the DNR office in Gaylord) in November … and took it to Northwest Michigan College” in Traverse City to inquire about whether the welding and fabrication students there could duplicate the device, Austin said.
The MBHA plans to purchase the materials to build the traps – which consist of a large barrel on a trailer with a switch in the rear of the device that triggers the door to close – and partner with school welding programs to fabricate replicas.
“We’re helping the students in the college, to learn something and to give them a project,” Austin said.
Many of the students capable of completing the job at NMC graduated this year, Austin said. NMC officials seemed to like the idea, he said, but students there likely won’t produce one until the spring of 2019.
MBHA President Tim Dusterwinkle is working with officials at Ferris State University to produce traps there, as well, and talks are ongoing.
Past president Rusty Huff is also discussing the possibility of building traps at Kirtland Community College. Eventually, MBHA officials want to partner with multiple colleges around the state to build the live traps for the DNR.
“We’re trying to help the DNR as much as we can (with nuisance bears) by providing them the traps,” Dusterwinkle said. “We don’t want them to issue depredation tags or something like that. I’d rather have too many (traps) than not enough.”
DNR wildlife field operations manager Brian Mastenbrook said the department currently has five bear traps spread out across the northern Lower Peninsula, and more in the Upper Peninsula.
DNR officials typically use the traps to remove bears that ravage orchards, kill pets, or cause other repeated problems, a process that involves hazing the animals with pepper spray or rubber buckshot while they’re in the traps.
The harassment, Mastenbrook said, is to convince the bears they don’t want to relive the experience.
DNR officials have struggled at times to address bear complaints because of the limited number of traps, which the department also lends to other states on occasion.
“There are times when all our traps are deployed and you have something come up and have to scramble” to pull a trap from a lower priority area, he said. “We run out of them, so a couple more would be beneficial.”
Mastenbrook said the shortage of bear traps is most apparent on the west side of the state, where the bulk of complaints originate. The traps also are not always effective at capturing problem animals, but do a good job of putting the public at ease, he said.
“We find many times just because you put a trap there doesn’t mean the bear will go in it, but it makes people feel better,” Mastenbrook said. “They are generally more accepting of having bears around if they know there’s this outlet” if a bear becomes a problem.