A recent commentary by Anna Kolosky entitled “Beavers should be our allies,” Stowe Reporter, Aug. 28, 2020, attacked Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists for advancing a political agenda.
The mission of Fish & Wildlife is to help protect, manage, control and conserve the fish and wildlife of the state. Trapping in Vermont is regulated by the state, including mandatory training requirements, restrictions on traps and open seasons. Many Vermont trappers have adopted best management practices. These practices were developed as an international, science-based, research effort to improve traps and trapping systems that encourage animal welfare and selection.
The arguments against trapping of beavers in this commentary are based on emotion not science.
Beavers were nearly eliminated in Vermont in the 1800s due to deforestation as the state was being settled. Beavers were re-introduced by the Department of Fish and Wildlife in the 1920s and 1930s. Population growth was estimated at 400 in 1941, increasing to 8,000 by 1949. Nuisance complaints allowed the trapping of 1,100 beaver in 1950, approximately the same number taken annually in recent years. Beaver populations, as well as nuisance complaints, have increased significantly since then.
The commentary cites the benefits of beaver dams to ensure continued wetlands. Regulated trapping of beavers has little or no effect on these wetlands. Regulated trapping does not remove all the animals from a colony; therefore, the ecological benefit of these wetlands continue. However, regulated trapping may reduce the number of beavers dispersing into areas that may be less suitable or compatible with the developed landscape, such as homes, roads and railroads.
The commentary discusses the beaver management in Massachusetts, where lethal traps are prohibited except by special permit. She doesn’t mention that these permits are issued to remove nuisance beavers and subsequently beaver dams. When these dams are removed, wetlands are drained, which may be repeated over and over as beavers move back in and flood the area again. The repeated flooding and draining of the wetland has a negative affect on the animals that inhabit the wetland.
In Massachusetts today, where trapping was effectively banned in 1996, upwards of 50 percent of the beaver harvested are taken as a result of human-wildlife conflicts. Most of these are being caught in the lethal traps that were outlawed by the ban. Since this ban Massachusetts citizens are less tolerant of these critters.
While she cites use of non-lethal solutions to mitigating problem beavers, she dismisses the use of trapping the animals, which is usually the easiest and cheapest method. For example, Framingham, Mass., received a permit to set lethal traps for these rodents because the dams they built were causing serious problems: particularly one that was flooding the roadway and freezing, resulting in black ice and a dangerous situation for school buses.
A second incident involved a dam that caused flooding that infiltrated a city sewer line.
Both issues were considered a threat to public health and safety. A local official said it would be difficult — if not impossible — to solve these problems while the beavers were living there.
This commentary also refers to the idea that beaver populations will self-regulate, which assumes the beaver will reach a peak population and then stabilize significantly below this peak. However, significant problems can and do occur as these populations near the peak, including increased flooding of this developed landscape.
Another example of beaver damage involves flooding in the village of Roxbury caused by sedimentation in the Dog River and exacerbated by multiple beaver dams. Roxbury, located in a high narrow valley, is the high point of the Central Vermont Railway and is the victim of a growing wetland in and around the village, primarily due to beaver dams.
The Dog River flows north to Lake Champlain, while the third branch of the White River flows south to the Connecticut River. This wetland, consisting of over 30 acres, lies in a flat area between the railroad to the east and the Northfield Mountains to the west. This wetland caused significant flooding of cellars, roads, septic systems and undermines the rail bed.
As Vermonters, it is imperative that we support our government agencies, especially the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Without it, we would not have most of the wildlife that exists in Vermont today. Wildlife management must be based on sound science by professional staff and not on emotions and political objectives.
Trapping is far more humane to the specific animal than death in the wild. Wild animals do not pass away peacefully in their sleep accompanied by family and friends.
While beaver baffles can be an effective tool, they do not work in every location and require maintenance by the landowner or town. Lethal traps are also an effective tool in resolving beaver conflicts. There are no legitimate reasons to eliminate the use of regulated trapping in Vermont.
Whose agenda is Kolosky trying to advance?
Jerry D’Amico lives in Roxbury.