AF CONTRIBUTOR |DEBOLT
Gordy Klassen admits he gets a little fired up when confronting erroneous presumptions about trapping, especially when it comes from misconceptions held by some livestock producers.
“The sheep or beef producer can control predators if they have the right tools and knowledge,” said the lifelong trapper and outdoorsman. “They don’t see its value, and how in the end, it can save them from becoming extinct.”
Klassen is earning quite the reputation among farmers and ranchers across Canada. Keen to the plight of the primary producer, he routinely talks about predation control to organizations such as the Fur Institute of Canada, Western Stock Growers Association, and cattlemen’s associations across Western Canada. And they’re still talking about his fiery presentation at the Canadian Sheep Federation’s annual general meeting last fall.
From his home base near Debolt, Klassen has delivered numerous workshops to ag producers, biologists, game wardens, and conservation officers as well as energy company employees. He estimates upwards of 500 producers have attended and about 400 wolves caught through his workshops that are now almost legend among trappers and outfitters across North America. Most sessions are free, as Klassen, president of the Alberta Trappers Association, says his main interest is “getting producers to understand that with a little help they can deal with a lot of their own predation issues.”
One of the biggest problems Klassen runs into is when people with a wildlife conflict issue want to “rush to get it solved,” he said.
“In a modern world where most things can be shut off with a key, a switch or a tap, people get really annoyed when they have to deal with an intelligent, well-equipped critter who is busy making a living on the same ground and is not all that keen on having its switch shut off.”
Because of the success of his short courses, he’s currently creating a five-day wolf and coyote management course that will delve further into their biology, canine habits, and management.
“The biggest thing will be the hands-on components, where participants spend much of their time perfecting their methods using a variety of tools,” said Klassen.
He’s also working on a similar beaver management course.
Stewards of the land
Klassen and wife Alison raise horses, beef cows, bison and some European wild boars on 500 acres. He grew up in the Debolt area, and his love for nature was evident at an early age.
“I was interested in everything there was to do with the bush,” said Klassen, recalling countless hours in the forest and coming home with porcupine quills, rabbit poop, and other treasures. He started trapping at age 13, and says that instilled in him a healthy respect for wildlife.
Today in Alberta, there are 1,650 registered traplines (or Registered Fur Management Areas) in what Klassen calls a highly regulated industry.
“A good trapper is really a steward of the land,” he said. “Trappers are on the front line of disease control and can also manage wild population swings.”
Harvest records usually come from trappers, and these are a baseline measure of species health.
Aligning sustainable, responsible trapping practices with what a farmer or rancher needs on the ground isn’t always easy. For one, ideal trapping time doesn’t always fit with a rancher’s schedule, such as at calving time. But if a rancher is prepared and organized, it’s not a large chore, said Klassen.
“Wolves and coyotes are a significant problem in the Peace,” he said. “Teaching producers that they can be dealt with in a humane, proactive, sustainable and meaningful way is my goal.”
Some wolf packs prefer livestock; others like to dine on wild game. If a producer is lucky enough to have the latter, said Klassen, they have the ultimate in predator control because, being territorial, the pack will keep others away. Hiring someone to take care of a wolf problem is hit and miss, and dogs, llamas and donkeys – what Klassen calls feel-good methods – meet with limited success, he said.
“With a little education, the rancher can take away information and the tools he needs to catch his own.”
Klassen’s foray into education was spurred a few years back when wolf numbers in Alberta were about to explode.
“I started offering workshops and courses for trappers and that proved very popular very quickly.”
Soon, outfitters and ranchers were attending too. Like him, ranchers have a deep bond with their land and their animals.
“Producers are attached to their stock, and when there’s a predation problem, it ‘gets personal,’” says Klassen. “It’s not just about economics.”