John Aberth: Wildlife is a precious public resource. Why are we wasting it?

This commentary is by John Aberth, a licensed volunteer wildlife rehabilitator who rehabs beavers, raptors and other animals at Flint Brook Wildlife Rescue in Roxbury.

Lately, the news has been filled with stories of beavers hailed as the new “climate change engineers” and “climate-solving heroes” for their ability to create drought-resistant aquifers and reservoirs and verdant firebreaks even in the midst of devastating wildfires. 

In Western states, such as California, Nevada and Utah, beavers are being deliberately introduced into areas, including grazing and pasture lands, through a program of building “starter” dams, or beaver dam “analogs,” in order to encourage beavers to stay and do their precious work, all for free.

Meanwhile, here in Vermont, a supposedly environmentally progressive state, we’re killing over 1,000 beavers a year, on average (although self-reporting by trappers is inconsistent), all for the sake of catering to the recreational tastes of the local trapping community, which comprises just 0.1 percent of Vermont’s total population. 

This does not include the 500 to 600 “nuisance” beavers trapped by Vermont towns to supposedly protect road culverts, and other “nuisance” beavers of unknown number trapped by private landowners. This means that well over 1,000 potential aquifers and wetlands are lost to the state every year.

If you think Vermont can afford to lose these naturally occurring wetlands because wildfires and droughts rarely occur here, you are dead wrong. To date, this current year, 2022, has been the driest in Vermont’s recorded history over the past 128 years. Climate change is only going to make this trend worse. 

We need our beavers alive, working on the landscape to create buffers against climate change, not killed by trappers who skin them for pelts no one wants anymore or for the sake of “tradition.” 

The same could be said for almost all other furbearers currently targeted by trappers: bobcats, coyotes, foxes, mink, fisher, etc., all feed on mice as one of their main food sources and therefore are our front line of defense against Lyme disease — which has its second-highest incidence right here in Vermont — by helping to break the chain of infection whereby ticks are infected by feeding on Borrelia burgdorferi-infested mice.

It is a well-established principle that the public good takes precedence over the private desires of a few individuals. Title 10 VSA 4081 of the Vermont statutes states that the Fish & Wildlife Department will manage the state’s wildlife “in the interest of the public welfare.” 

Yet currently the trapping lobby has a stranglehold over Vermont’s wildlife policy: All of the current members of the Fish & Wildlife Board, for example, are hunters, anglers and/or trappers, with no opportunity for other voices to be heard. 

It is therefore up to the public to lobby the Legislature to enact laws that will benefit both wildlife and humans, such as a statewide trapping ban.

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Tags: beavers, climate change, Fish and Wildlife Department, john aberth, trapping

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