California trapper faces scrutiny for high number of raccoon and coyote catches

A single Idyllwild trapper caught 5,255 raccoons and 435 coyotes in Riverside County in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021, state Department of Fish and Wildlife records show. Most of them were killed, the trapper said.

These astronomical numbers are greater than the annual catches of all 603 other licensed trapping companies in California combined. Trapper Tracy Philippi’s count averaged more than 14 raccoons a day, seven days a week – and more than one coyote a day, although the caged animals are notoriously difficult to trap and only 796 were caught in the entire state during this period.

Philippi operates as Better Wildlife Control and has no employees other than his wife. It has been capturing nuisance wildlife for more than 30 years, and its large catch total for fiscal year 2021 is typical of a year, he said.

“Every animal I’m called for by HOAs and owners is a coyote eating a pet or a raccoon in a house,” Philippi said, adding that he works 18-hour days, seven days a week.

The reaction of wildlife rescuers and some fellow trappers ranged from disbelief to outrage.

“I’m concerned that he’s trapping animals that are just going about their business without causing trouble,” said Keli Hendricks, who works with the national nonprofit Project Coyote. “I find it hard to believe that anyone trapping so many raccoons cares about wildlife.”

Hendricks, who also works with orphaned wild animals, said he was particularly concerned that baby raccoons and coyotes were being unnecessarily orphaned and left to starve as a result of Philippi’s many catches. She called on the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to investigate Philippi’s operation because of the extraordinarily high numbers.

Philippi said he does a “head-to-toe” check on every animal he catches and immediately releases lactating females. He emphasized the human aspects of his activities and said he obtained a doctorate. in wildlife management from Louisiana State University two months ago.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife said it had no reason at this stage to investigate Philippi. Although the department noticed the high numbers, this was the first year it was collecting the data, not all trappers reported, and the department had no baseline historical data to compare, Matt said. Fish and Wildlife environmental scientist Meshriy.

“As long as the trapping is done in a legal manner and there is no further evidence of animal cruelty, the CDFW doesn’t have much jurisdiction to investigate,” Meshriy said. “If there is evidence that a law has been broken, any public or private individual or organization, rehabilitation center, etc., can and should submit it through CalTIP.”

The hotline for CalTIP, which stands for “Californians Turn in Braconers and Polluters,” is 888-334-2258.

paper trail

Hendricks, who lives in Sonoma County, first noticed the unusually high numbers while reviewing the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s public trapping data spreadsheet by county for 2020-2021. It’s no wonder Riverside County’s tally jumped out at him: no other county reported more than 585 raccoons or 86 coyotes captured.

In response to a Public Records Act request from the Southern California News Group, the department identified Philippi as the trapper responsible for Riverside County’s outstanding numbers. The next-busiest raccoon trapper reported only one catch in the county, and the second-busiest coyote trapper reported only 18.

Philippi’s 5,255 raccoons accounted for 62% of all raccoons captured in the state and its 435 coyotes accounted for 55% of those captured statewide.

These numbers were so high that two Southern California trappers interviewed questioned the accuracy of the department’s data. Philippi later confirmed that the numbers recorded for him were accurate.

Karolyn Verville, who runs Sunshine Haven Wildlife Rehabilitation in Riverside, was also suspicious of the totals Philippi reported to the state.

“I can hardly believe 5,200 raccoons were captured – I don’t believe it for a second,” Verville said. “I think he was playing with the numbers. Something is wrong. »

She speculated that Philippi fabricated the numbers, possibly for “bragging rights”.

But Philippi said he preferred to keep a low profile and was adamant he didn’t want his name released in connection with his catch record, saying he would sue the state for violating a privacy law that he applied.

“I don’t want my name published,” he said. “The reason for this (privacy provision) is that we are not being harassed by crazies who think all animals should live. Not only can this lead to disease, but it can also lead to overpopulation, which creates more problems. “

Dan Skalos, an environmental specialist with the department, said Fish and Wildlife attorneys determined the law Philippi cited applied to fur traders and had been repealed.

Wildlife decline

California made national headlines in 2019 when it became the first state to ban fur trapping. The change in law also required nuisance wildlife trappers to start reporting their catch each year. Fiscal 2021 was the first year reporting was required and improvements are still underway.

For example, the first report asked trappers for the total number of animals taken, but not how many animals had been killed. As of the current fiscal year, the form asks for a breakdown of lethal and non-lethal “takes,” Meshriy said. While Philippi said most of his catches were killed – humanely – he didn’t have a specific breakdown for 2020-21.

Philippi said he was one of the few trappers working in his largely rural territory, which includes Idyllwild, Lake Riverside Estates, Pine Cove and desert areas. It catches raccoons using box traps – cages that close when the animal enters to eat the bait.

The snares he uses for coyotes are rubber-coated cables that are typically placed through holes in fences, den entrances, and bush-lined paths, and snap around the animal’s neck when are triggered. Phillipi said he uses non-lethal snares and noted that the state requires trappers to check snares every 12 hours.

Wildlife is only supposed to be trapped if it causes conflict with people or domestic animals. The state requires that once trapped, the animals either be killed or released where they were captured – they are not supposed to be moved.

When asked if his part of Riverside County has more such disputes than the rest of the state combined, Phillipi dithered.

“I can’t tell you that,” he said. “I don’t know about the rest of the state.”

He later added that “every city and/or county has coyote problems”.

Like Verville, Project Coyote’s Hendricks is reluctant to believe everything Philippi says and reports.

“There can’t be more conflict there,” Hendricks said. “There are tons of rural areas like this in California, where nowhere do you hear this number of animals captured.

She was also skeptical about the hours Philippi said he worked.

“How do you get your doctorate? while working 18 hours a day, 7 days a week? she asked.

Most importantly, Hendricks would like officials to make sure that Philippi doesn’t unnecessarily trap and kill animals.

She pointed to a 2018 CalTech study that found that 96% of mammalian biomass on Earth is made up of humans, their pets, and their livestock.

“Only 4% are wild animals,” Hendricks said. “If we can’t share this planet with what few wild animals are left, what does that say about us?”


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