He’s never missed a winter trapping season in 40 years but it was Paul Blackwell’s fierce advocacy work for the forest and creatures he loves that earned him the nickname “The Mad Trapper.”
“Logging truck drivers nicknamed me the ‘Mad Trapper’ not because I was crazy but because I was mad at the amount of logging they were doing,” Blackwell said. “Although at times my wife thinks I am crazy to go out there on my own every single day in the wintertime.”
That anecdote and many others from Blackwell’s life in the bush can be found in his new memoir, The Mad Trapper from Greeny Lake. The book aims to give people insight into the world of trapping, as well as clear up public misconceptions about the industry.
Blackwell noted trappers don’t just trap animals for their pelts. Indeed, he said, they tend to be more environmentally conscious due to the amount of time they spend in the wild. Blackwell has seen first-hand how the loss of the pine trees to the pine beetle and the hunger for spruce and fir is disrupting habitats, leading to a decline in the number of animals such as the mule deer and the fisher – the “little brother of the wolverine.”
Over the years, Blackwell has provided corpses for researchers, collected scat for analysis and was involved in trapping and relocating lynx and fisher to Colorado and Washington state respectively.
“If trappers weren’t here there would be a great deal of property damage from beavers and predators, so it’s very important we keep the industry alive. In the book’s dedication, I say trappers are one of the only groups that speak in truth for the trees.”
Blackwell, who was born in the southwest of England, got his first taste of trapping by catching moles with his father. When he went to boarding school as a teenager he employed his skills to help deal with the school’s mole infestation and received sixpence a pelt, which was good pocket money in those days.
He came to Canada to attend Expo 67 in Montreal and somehow found himself in British Columbia, falling in love with the province. “Ever since, I’ve considered myself Canadian. Some people talk about home but no, I’m Canadian and this is my home. It always has been,” Blackwell said. “I love the wilderness.”
A trained teacher, Blackwell left his career behind and moved to the Cariboo, inspired by Three Against the Wilderness by Eric Collier. Blackwell loved the book and how it described living in the wild of the Cariboo-Chilcotin. Collier had lived near Big Bar Lake, where Blackwell first began to trap professionally.
“Trapping is like Christmas every day, you never know what you’re going to get and you never know what you’re going to see. It’s not just what you catch in the traps, it’s that wilderness experience every day.”
Blackwell noted there has been a rise in the use of humane trapping across the industry. These traps – many modelled from a design by Frank Conibear – are aimed at killing an animal instantly, causing as little pain as possible. These days 95 per cent of the animals caught by Blackwell and other trappers are by humane killing traps, rather than the old leg hole traps, he said.
Over the years Blackwell has written articles for BC Trappers magazine, which along with his degree in education and honours English from Simon Fraser University, helped him put his life down on the page. He self-published the book with the help of Demian Pettman, whom he described as a perfectionist who pushed him hard to come up with the final product.
His favourite chapter in the book describes the “Smelly Critters,” in which Blackwell shares stories of his encounters with skunks and weasels. The first time Blackwell got sprayed by a skunk was also the first time he had to strip naked on the front porch before his wife would let him inside.
“It was exciting. I got to the point where I just wanted to get it done,” Blackwell said. “When it arrived last Monday and I opened up the boxes of books I was quite excited.”
The Mad Trapper from Greeny Lake is available at Nuthatch Books, the Race Trac gas station in Lac La Hache, online via Facebook or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org for $21.95.