Monday, March 30, 2009

Beta testing S.B. 994, Connecticut's proposed fur trapping ban

S.B. 994, Connecticut's proposed fur trapping ban

March 23, 1:47 PM
S.B. 994, "An Act Concerning Leghold Traps,"
<> has been
approved by a vote of 22-8 in the Connecticut General Assembly's Environment Committee, and will now be considered by the legislature. If enacted, the law will largely ban the use of leghold and Conibear traps in the state.Proponents of the measure argue that passage of S.B. 994 will finally end an unacceptably cruel practice. Opponents argue that trapping is not inhumane,and that it is an important tool for wildlife management in Connecticut.In 1996, voters in Massachusetts approved an anti-trapping ballot referendum expertly pushed by animal-rights organizations. Formally titled the Wildlife Protection Act, the law is more popularly known as Question One. Like S.B.994, Question One bans the use of leghold and Conibear traps. The Massachusetts experience, particularly with regard to management of the state's beaver population, is a useful case study for understanding the practical implications of S.B. 994.Prior to Question One, Massachusetts had a healthy beaver population estimated at approximately 23,000 animals. Homeowners and others dealing with occasional beaver problems, such as the destruction of trees and the flooding of yards and basements, could call MassWildlife <> , the Massachusetts agency that is roughly the equivalent of the Wildlife Division of Connecticut's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). MassWildlife would typically refer the caller to the Massachusetts Trappers Association. The MTA would recommend a trapper, who would come out during the trapping season, generally at no cost to the landowner, and kill the beaver.As in Connecticut, most Massachusetts beaver trapping was done with Conibear traps set in the water. Conibears are not leghold traps. They are lethal traps that work on much the same principle as the familiar mousetrap. A beaver is guided or baited into putting its head into the trap, triggering stiff wire arms that snap down on the animal's neck, dislocating the
beaver's spine and killing it.Question One banned Conibears but not "humane" box traps and suitcase traps.In Massachusetts, these traps are used to capture beavers alive and unharmed so that they can be killed later. Relocating beavers is illegal in Massachusetts. Box traps and suitcase traps make trapping, which is demanding work in the best of circumstances, even more difficult. They're
bulky, heavy, and time consuming to carry and set. They're also expensive,and with the market for furs so depressed, it's hard for a trapper to
justify replacing his Conibears with cage traps that may well cost more
money than a successful trapper will realize from the furs he takes in a
whole season's trapping.
The ban on Conibear traps very nearly ended fur trapping for beavers in
Massachusetts. In the last trapping season before the ban took effect,
trappers harvested 1,136 beavers in the state. By the 1997-98 season, the
number of beavers killed by trappers had dropped to ninety-eight.
Animal-rights organizations hailed the passage of Question One as a signal
victory for their cause. Then things began to get complicated.
Suddenly relieved of the pressure of its main predator, the beaver
population in Massachusetts grew explosively. By 2000, the population was
estimated to have tripled to about 70,000 animals. As the beaver population
increased, reports of damaged private property, blocked culverts, and
flooded roads due to beaver activity skyrocketed. Public water supplies in
towns like Sterling
> and Chelmsford
<> were contaminated by
flooding caused or exacerbated by beavers.
Massachusetts had long had some problem beavers, but beavers were now a
widespread problem. As environmentalist firebrand Ted Williams wrote
<> in Audubon
magazine, "We've converted a resource to a pest."
The 1996 passage of Question One, which banned the use of leghold and
Conibear traps in Massachusetts, led to a dramatic increase in the state's
beaver population. By 2000, beavers had become serious pests, and their
activities were flooding highways, contaminating drinking water, and causing
extensive damage to private property.
In 2000, the Massachusetts legislature responded by modifying Question One
to allow local boards of health to issue emergency permits for the use of
Conibear traps, not just during trapping season but at any time of year, to
destroy beavers that pose a threat to human health and safety. This action
completed a fundamental shift in beaver management that had begun with
Question One four years earlier. Instead of actively managing the beaver
population strategically and across the state, Massachusetts now manages
beavers reactively through local damage control in an endless series of
small crises. With much of the state's beaver control now in the hands of
town health boards with no reporting requirements back to the state,
MassWildlife, the agency ostensibly responsible for wildlife management in
Massachusetts, can no longer even accurately estimate the size of the
state's beaver population.
Massachusetts homeowners once had their beaver problems resolved largely by
recreational fur trappers-at no cost. Now many homeowners pay nuisance
animal control operators hundreds of dollars, and sometimes more, for
trapping, fencing, tree wrapping, and the installation of flow-control
devices in beaver ponds. Massachusetts taxpayers have also taken a financial
hit, as highway departments and towns pay for beaver-control services.
Additional concerns about the growing beaver population have arisen,
including an increase in mosquito breeding habitat and a possible link to
mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile Virus.
And what about the beavers? Because of the large number of problem beavers
now being trapped for damage control, it's estimated that the number of
beavers being killed annually by trapping in Massachusetts (based on 2006
data, which are the most recent available) is higher than the number killed
before Question One.
When good technology managers consider purchasing a new hardware or software
product for their company, they make certain that the product has been
subjected to adequate beta testing to ensure that it will work in their
operating environment. As the General Assembly considers S.B. 994
<> , it needs to
look at Question One. Massachusetts has, in effect, done the beta testing
for Connecticut's proposed trap ban. The results couldn't be clearer. It
doesn't work.
When I began looking into the issues surrounding S.B. 994, I was about as
neutral as a person can be on an extraordinarily polarizing subject. Since
then, I've spent many hours reading about trapping: scientific papers, news
stories, blogs, and a lot of anti-trapping literature. I've spoken and
corresponded with trappers, wildlife biologists, and animal-rights
advocates. I've been privileged to meet thoughtful, gracious, helpful folks
on all sides of the debate. And I'm not neutral anymore. S.B. 994 is
flat-out bad legislation.
The people who are providing the main impetus for S.B. 994 surely have good
intentions. The Humane Society of the United States <>
(HSUS) is the key lobbyist for the trap ban. HSUS is a smart organization
that does much good work on behalf of animals. No one should confuse them
with groups on the lunatic fringe <> of the
animal-rights movement. Even folks who vehemently disagree with HSUS on
policy matters should still recognize that the organization's local staff
and volunteers are sensible people who genuinely care about Connecticut and
its wildlife.
Senator Ed Meyer <> led the charge
for S.B. 994 in the Environment Committee, and seems likely to perform the
same role in the General Assembly. Senator Meyer represents the 12th Senate
District <> , where I happen to
live. He's a good man-an effective legislator who works hard on behalf of
his constituents and the people of Connecticut. I've voted for him twice,
and I hope to do so again. But even good legislators and smart organizations
sometimes make mistakes. S.B. 994 is a mistake. It will be best to tell them

Support Your fellow sportsmen:
"We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang
Benjamin Franklin

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