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

John Aberth: Wildlife management should be driven by science, not politics

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

In his October 9 commentary, “There is no silver bullet for beaver conservation, coexistence and management,” says Kim Royar, “Our current beaver trapping season is helping to maintain and coexist with the healthy and abundant Vermont beaver population by minimizing the need for beaver harvesting. as a “nuisance” in conflict situations. »

Yet, there is absolutely no credible scientific evidence demonstrating that trapping plays a significant role in wildlife management and control. Indeed, the mere fact that municipal road crews in Vermont kill, on average, 500 to 600 “nuisance” beavers each year is a rather high “minimum” trade-off for the 1,400 beavers killed by recreational trappers each year.

According to Bryant White, senior researcher for the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, “Broad generalizations about the effectiveness of amateur trapping in reducing human-wildlife conflict are unwise.”

Beavers, like all furbearing animals, self-regulate their populations based on the carrying capacity of the land, that is, the amount of food available in the landscape to maintain their numbers. This is a fundamental biological principle that all biologists should know.

In the case of beavers, some of the best field research we have proves this. At Quabbin Reservation in Massachusetts and Sagehen Creek in California, field studies and counts of beaver colonies over almost 50 years, from the 1940s to the 1990s, showed that beaver populations follow a cyclical pattern, reaching a peak. before falling back almost to the initial population level.

Since trapping was not permitted at either site, this was all done entirely by beaver self-regulation, with no human intervention.

Of course, it is true that when beaver populations increase, the potential for conflict with human-made infrastructure, such as road culverts, will increase. Fortunately, high-quality flow devices can be constructed and adapted to almost any conflict situation to resolve those conflicts in a non-lethal and sustainable manner, thereby preserving both human infrastructure and the valuable wetlands created by the beavers.

However, this requires a will and commitment to non-lethal and humane solutions rather than entrapment, but it is a solution that will reward cities in the long run, both in terms of cost savings and environmental protection. ‘habitat.

It has long been a shibboleth from state wildlife agencies that trapping bans will result in Beaver Armageddon, when beaver populations immediately “explode” to the point that human-beaver conflict becomes overwhelming. It’s a fantasy that has no basis in fact.

Many state biologists, including Royar, cite the example of Massachusetts, where a trapping ban called the Wildlife Protection Act passed by vote in 1996. In a graphic produced by the Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife , the beaver population in the state is said to have increased. by 50% in the year immediately following the ban, whereas in the year just before it would have increased by only 2.4%.

Like Vermont, Massachusetts has relied entirely on trapping data to estimate statewide beaver population trends; yet this database was evidently gutted by the ban, dropping from 1,136 pelts in 1995-96 to just 98 in 1996-97 (when beavers were caught only with cage traps).

In a 2021 paper, Massachusetts furbearer biologist Dave Wattles admitted to me that it was a “valid question” as to how the “significantly reduced” trapping harvest after 1996 affected estimates of the beaver population, on which he was unwilling “to even speculate.”

The public must trust that state wildlife agencies make policy decisions about wildlife management based on science, and not on political pressure from lobby groups such as trappers associations, which represent a tiny proportion of our general population.

In its own 2018 media and communications survey, the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife found that 53% of respondents feared being influenced by politics. A trapping ban would have the immeasurable benefit of removing politics from the wildlife management equation. He’s also reportedly hugely popular, backed by 75% of Vermonters. Additionally, across the Northeast, 79% of respondents oppose recreational trapping.

It is high time to ban recreational trapping. Our wildlife and the humans interconnected within it deserve nothing less.

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Tags: Beaver Armageddon, beavers, high quality flow devices, john aberth, kim royar, nuisance beavers, trapping


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