Will Staats: Why would we abandon science in Vermont wildlife management?

John Aberth: Why are we killing the only animal that can increase wildlife habitat?

John Aberth is a volunteer Certified Wildlife Rehabilitator who rehabilitates beavers, raptors and other animals at Flint Brook Wildlife Rescue in Roxbury.

“The conservation of fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the people of Vermont.” This is the official mission statement of the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife. There is one animal in Vermont that makes this mission much easier: the North American beaver. Beavers create some of the richest and most biologically productive habitats on the planet, comparable to rainforests and coral reefs. Their diked swamps create habitats for fish, waterfowl, deer, moose, mink, amphibians and a host of other animals. For this reason, they are known as a “keystone” species of biodiversity.

These are all well-known facts from the Ministry of Fish and Wildlife: I have attended presentations where their biologists have presented these same facts. Yet at the same time, the department promotes and permits the recreational trapping of more than 1,000 beavers per year, on average, statewide.

This trapping is only done for the recreational pleasure of killing these animals which, because they can hold their breath for up to 15 minutes underwater, take at least that long to drown and die in traps under -sailors. The traditional rationale for trapping beavers — to harvest their furs — is now belied by the fact that there is barely a market for animal fur, largely due to popular awareness of the cruelties of trapping.

This recreational trapping of beavers is directly contrary to the stated mission of the Department of Fish and Wildlife – to maintain good wildlife habitat – because without the presence of beavers to maintain the dams, they quickly erode and the valuable habitat of the areas wet is lost. Additionally, much of the recreational trapping takes place on public lands, where the habitat is most productive and needed.

In their presentations to the public, department biologists often cite beaver damming of road culverts, resulting in flooding of municipal roads, as justification for the continued trapping of beavers. Yet the trapping of “nuisance” beavers, often conducted or supervised by municipal road crews, is completely separate from recreational trapping conducted by trappers licensed by the Fish and Wildlife Department. Such “nuisance” trapping by cities or private landowners often occurs outside of official trapping season and is justified as an attempt to protect local roads or culverts allegedly “damaged” by beaver activity.

In fact, almost all of these man-made infrastructure disputes today can be resolved non-lethally, by means of water flow control devices (WFCDs), such as the popularly named “Beaver Deceiver”. , when installed by a competent professional.

The Fish and Wildlife Department estimates that “nuisance” trapping kills 500 to 600 beavers per year, which is in addition to the more than 1,000 beavers killed by recreational trappers. In truth, trapping is not a “solution” at all, as new beavers almost always move to the empty conflict site within 1-2 years. Only WFCDs can provide long-term, non-lethal, humane solutions that are actually much more cost effective than trapping.

From almost every point of view, beavers are much more valuable alive than dead, even if one is a hunter or trapper. After all, beavers create habitats that harbor exponentially more wildlife to hunt or trap! But a similar argument can be made for almost all other furbearers that are currently trapped.

For example, foxes, coyotes, mink, weasels, bobcats and other predators are our first line of defense against Lyme disease, which has its second highest incidence right here in Vermont. Simply by chasing carriers of Borrelia burgdorferi, such as white-footed mice, predators prevent mice from infecting ticks that transmit the bacteria to humans. Additionally, Vermont’s apex predators, such as coyotes and bobcats, help prevent the uncontrolled population growth of herbivore species that can decimate the local vegetation cover needed to sustain many other species.

Wildlife belongs to everyone in Vermont, which is why it’s important for everyday citizens to get involved in issues that affect their well-being. Trapping is an issue where a solid majority of Vermonters – 75% – agree that its harmful effects on animals – which include both domestic and wild animals, since dogs and cats are routinely caught in leghold traps – l far outweigh the perceived benefits to humans and therefore should be banned.

Since the Fish and Wildlife Department seems determined to promote trapping as a recreational activity in Vermont, it is up to all of us to get involved with our elected officials to make wildlife protection a priority!

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Tags: beaver dams, beavers, trapping

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