John Aberth: Why kill one animal that can increase wildlife habitat?

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

“Conserving Fish, Wildlife, Plants, and Their Habitats for the People of Vermont.” This is the official mission statement for the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife. There is one animal in Vermont that greatly facilitates this task: the North American beaver. Beavers create some of the richest and most biologically productive habitats on Earth, comparable to rainforests and coral reefs. Their dams wetlands create habitats for fish, waterfowl, deer, moose, mink, amphibians, and a host of other animals. For this reason, they are known as the “core” species of biodiversity.

These are all well-known facts for the Department of Fish and Wildlife: I have been present at presentations where biologists presented these same facts. However, at the same time, the department promotes and licenses the recreational hunting of more than 1,000 beavers annually, on average, across the state.

Such trapping is carried out for no other reason than 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 sink and die in underwater traps. The traditional justification for beaver trapping – to harvest fur skins – today belies the fact that there is a scarce market for animal fur, in large part due to popular awareness of the brutality of the hunt.

This recreational trapping of beavers is directly inimical to the Fish and Wildlife Department’s stated mission – to conserve good wildlife habitats – because without beavers to maintain their dams, they are rapidly eroding and valuable wetland habitats are lost. Furthermore, much recreational trapping occurs on public lands, where it is the most productive and neediest habitat.

In their presentations to the audience, the department’s biologists often cite beavers’ erection of road dams, which led to the flooding of city roads, as a justification for their continued hunt of beavers. However, trapping of “nuisance” beavers, often conducted or supervised by city road crews, is entirely separate from recreational baiting by fishermen licensed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Such “nuisance” traps by towns or private landowners often occur outside the official baiting season and are justified as an attempt to protect allegedly “damaged” local roads or sewers from beaver activity.

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

The Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates that “disturbing” traps kill 500-600 beavers annually, in addition to the upwards of 1,000 beavers killed by recreational anglers. In fact, baiting is not a “solution” at all, because new beavers almost always move to an empty conflict site within 1-2 years. Only WFCDs can provide long-term, non-lethal and humane solutions that are actually more cost-effective than trapping.

From almost any perspective, beavers are more valuable alive than dead, even if one is a hunter or hunter. After all, beavers create habitats that sustain vastly larger numbers of wild animals to be hunted or trapped! But a similar argument could be made for anyone else who is currently trapped.

For example, foxes, coyotes, minks, weasels, cats and other predators are our first line of defense against Lyme disease, which has the second highest incidence here in Vermont. By simply chasing Borrelia burgdorferi vectors, such as white-footed mice, predators prevent mice from infecting ticks that transmit the bacteria to humans. Furthermore, Vermont’s top predators such as wolves and cats help prevent the unbridled population growth of herbivorous species that could wipe out the native vegetation necessary to sustain many other species.

Wildlife belongs to all residents of Vermont, which is why it is important that ordinary citizens participate in issues that affect their well-being. Trapping is one issue where the vast majority of Vermonters—75 percent—agree that its adverse effects on animals—which include domestic as well as wild animals, given that dogs and cats are routinely hunted in leg traps—far outweigh any perceived benefits to humans, Hence it should be banned.

Since the Department of Fish and Wildlife appears committed to promoting trapping as a recreational activity in Vermont, it is up to all of us to engage with our elected officials to make wildlife protection a priority!

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