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Hot on the trail

Rainbow Lake man continues trapping tradition in Ad’ks

January 5, 2011
By MIKE LYNCH, News Outdoors Writer
With snow falling around him, trapper Bill Ulinski looked at a trail of animal tracks running along the top of a diagonally leaning log. “Something’s moving here,” said Ulinski in early December, as we stood in a quiet section of forest outside of Saranac Lake.  The tracks in the snow led from the ground to a wooden box about 4 feet off the ground that housed a body-gripping trap designed for killing small animals such as marten and fisher. Ulinski is a trapper and has been since he was a child growing up in central New York. The Rainbow Lake resident speculated that the animal had smelled the remains of a beaver carcass that had been used as bait, even though it had been removed by another animal earlier in the week. Ulinski realized the bait was missing on his last trip and was visiting the trap this day to replace it. After removing the metal jaws from the wooden box, Ulinski took a frozen beaver carcass from his Duluth pack. He then placed it in the back of the box and reset the trap. But he wasn’t done.  “OK, let’s get the skunk essence out,” said Ulinski, pulling a bottle of Carman’s Canine Lure from his pack. “A little dab will do ya.”  Using gloves, Ulinski carefully applied the powdery substance to the wooden box. He was very conscious of not getting any of this foul-smelling stuff on himself. He’s learned his lesson in that regard. He said he once unknowingly got some on his finger, which he subsequently used to itch the bottom of his nose. That was a huge mistake.  After what he described as a light show, Ulinski said he ran for the nearest brook.  “I stuck my head right in it,” said Ulinski, noting that it was winter. He didn’t want to repeat that experience. After applying the “skunk essence” around the edge of the box, Ulinski’s work was done. We turned and followed our footprints through the snow out of the hemlock stand and back to the trail. This was the eighth and final trap — spread out over four main locations — we had checked on this particular day. None of the traps, which have to be checked every 48 hours, produced any fisher or marten, but that isn’t unheard of. Sometimes the animals just aren’t around, which didn’t seem to bother Ulinski too much. He definitely enjoys the reward of catching fisher and marten, but it’s the process of trapping — which requires spending hours outside — that has kept him continuously checking his traps, even during times when he’s had unsuccessful spells. “It’s a way of getting outdoors,” Ulinski said later in his truck. “It’s a way of learning a lot.”

Role in DEC research Ulinski is one of a rare breed. There are only about 200 to 250 trappers who request marten permits annually, according to state Department of Environmental Conservation biologist Paul Jensen, and only about 70 percent of those actually use the permit. For those who do trap marten in this state, they must do it in the Adirondacks. Jensen said that the state’s marten population is limited to a roughly 5,000-square-mile region that includes the Central Adirondacks. Fisher are more populous on the fringes of the Adirondacks. Some biologists believe that fisher live in areas with less snow because it’s easier for them to get around and hunt, among other reasons. Those who trap marten are limited to six per season and are required to turn in the marten carcasses and logs of their trapping activities to the DEC. There is no fisher limit. Jensen said those who do trap play in an important role in the research he does on the animals, particularly the marten. “We do get a lot of information from those carcasses,” Jensen said. “It’s very helpful for our management.” DEC biologists use the information from trappers to learn more about the marten’s diet, population trends and preferred habitats. Jensen said the information is used for management, but may also be important in interpreting future population trends. One thing they do with the marten and fishers, which have been voluntarily brought to the DEC in recent years, is extract the tooth of the animal to determine its age. “We’ll take one of the canines and they’ll section the root of the tooth and count the rings of what’s called cementum in the tooth and it’s analogous to counting rings in a tree,” Jensen said. “You can determine their age with high accuracy based upon those cementum layers in the tooth. The animal deposits a layer of cementum for every year of its life.” DEC biologists like Jensen will also look at the number of male and female martens that are harvested. He said that generally the ratio of males to females should be in the range of three to one or five to one. That’s because males are more prone to being trapped, a result of having larger home ranges and taking more risks than females. “It think males are more apt to take risky forays into baited traps than females,” Jensen said. “I’ve seen that with our live traps, where you catch a female and you never catch her again.” If the ratio gets to one to one, Jensen said the male marten population is likely depleted. Jensen said he’s also been accumulating tissue samples over the years from carcasses that have been submitted and hopes to get those analysis. He said he is doing a study to see if there is any inbreeding or any kind of bottleneck in the population “because the population is separate from all other marten populations in the northeast. I want to see if there’s any genetic consequences of that.”

Native tradition As Ulinski and I walked through the woods, we had to skirt and climb over numerous large hemlocks that had been blown down. As we traveled, Ulinski continued to keep his eyes open for signs of animal movement, including marten and fisher. “I’m looking for travel routes,” Ulinski said at one point during the day. “I want to know where rabbits and red squirrels are because they eat them.”  As we returned to Ulinski’s truck, he pulled out a frozen fisher and marten that he had brought along to better illustrate his descriptions of the animals. Ulinski was planning to skin the marten later that day. Once he properly prepares the fur, he will often sell it to an agent, where it is auctioned in Canada. Sometimes he will use furs from animals he captured to make hats or other items. A marten may bring in $40 this year, he said. About five years ago, he averaged about $80 per marten. On an average year, he only makes a few hundred dollars. He isn’t doing this to make a living. It’s a hobby, part of his lifestyle. Like he said before, he traps mainly for the totality of the experience. It requires him to spend time outside. “The Indians have an interesting philosophy,” Ulinski said as we drove back to Saranac Lake. “They figure they are on earth to harvest and kill, but they must do it respectfully.” 

Article Photos

Mike Lynch/Lake Placid News
Bill Ulinski checks a trap in the woods outside of Saranac Lake in early December.

 
 

 

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