On December 14, 2022

It’s time for the state to ban trapping

Dear Editor,

It’s time for the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department (VTF&W) and elected state officials to act on the wishes of the majority of Vermonters and ban recreational and fur trapping for furbearers (bobcat, otter, fisher, coyotes, beaver, red and gray fox, muskrat, raccoon, opossum, weasel, mink and skunk).

VTF&W recently commissioned a survey of Vermont residents on furbearer trapping. A majority of Vermonters oppose recreational and fur trapping — 68% disapprove of recreational trapping (only 26% approve) and 62% disapprove of fur trapping (only 31% approve). This is consistent with the 2017 Vermont Center for Rural Studies survey finding that 75% of Vermonters want trapping banned.

So why are VTF&W and elected officials ignoring the wishes of a majority of Vermonters?

Arguments against a recreational and fur trapping ban fall along some predictable lines:

Tradition: Trapping is a Vermont “tradition.” However, traditions can and do change with time. Dog and cock fighting were once “traditions” that are now banned throughout the U.S. as they were recognized as a form of legalized animal abuse. There is no legitimate need in the 21st century for trapping wildlife in painful ways so someone can kill them for recreation or fur.

Flatlanders: Some feel if you haven’t lived in Vermont for generations, you shouldn’t try to change traditions. This ignores the fact that some hunters and life-long Vermonters are part of the 62%-68% supporting a recreational and fur trapping ban. Additionally, I seem to have missed the place in the Vermont constitution where rights are assigned to people based on how long they’ve lived in the state. Are people who have not lived in Vermont for generations second-class citizens?

Misdirection: Inevitably, the issue of banning recreational and fur trapping raises the topic of the much-maligned beaver and damage to infrastructure. Nuisance damage from beavers can be managed in non-lethal ways. More importantly, banning recreational and fur trapping under 10 App. V.S.A. § 44 will not disallow nuisance trapping under 10 V.S.A. § 4828.

Guaranteed rights: VTF&W’s website wrongfully states that trapping is protected by the Vermont constitution. It is not. The constitution guarantees the right to “hunt and fowl,” which have distinctly different definitions than trapping under Vermont regulations.

Detractors: Unfortunately, some VTF&W staff see disagreements with department policy as having to deal with “detractors” who are discrediting their work. This is a disingenuous and dismissive response by public officials that ignores the legitimate right of citizens to question and petition for changes to department policy.

Sadly, ignoring majority public opinion on trapping extends to the Legislature. Last legislative session, S.201 proposed a ban on leghold traps. Instead of a ban, the Legislature passed a bill to establish “Best Management Practices” (BMPs) for trapping. Trappers in a working group to advise on BMPs wouldn’t even agree to limit killing of trapped animals to gunshot only. They still want to be able to use inhumane methods, e.g., bludgeoning, stomping, or choking, to kill trapped wildlife. A BMP-approved leghold trap can still maim an animal and will not prevent indiscriminate trapping of pet dogs and cats, raptors, or endangered species. Is this really “best?”

Trapping BMPs are an oxymoron and a misdirection. It is an attempt to make an inhumane activity sound more acceptable. Should we have BMPs for dog fighting rather than banning it?

Going forward, I have concerns about how VTF&W will report the survey results based on the department’s past misrepresentations of public comment to citizens and legislators, as well as my own direct experience. It took me 16 months of persistent communications with the VTF&W, the governor’s office, Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) and an ethics complaint to correct inaccurate statements in VTF&W’s Big Game Management Plan 2020-2030. It was a simple request to remove two sentences, which did not accurately reflect public comment received by the department and which did not in any way affect the report recommendations. Repeated contacts with Commissioner Herrick on the issue received no response. This is all the more disturbing because he has said that everybody needs to “dial it down a bit” on differing views of VTF&W policy. Being ignored most assuredly does not dial it down.

The report was finally corrected, but not without the governor’s legal counsel using the detractors’ argument about “personal insults” and “incivility” towards VTF&W staff.

In my opinion, VTF&W’s 16-month refusal to remove information in a public report that was clearly identified to them as inaccurate was willful misrepresentation and undermining of public trust. I see this an ethical lapse. It appears that to ANR and the governor’s office, this is maligning VTF&W’s good work.

Wildlife is held in trust for all Vermonters. Gov. Scott recently wrote of the need to “listen.” I agree. The Governor, VTF&W and legislators need to listen and stop dismissing the legitimate viewpoints of the majority of Vermonters about trapping, and act to ban recreational and fur trapping. Do we really have too many bobcats in Vermont?

Barbara Felitti,

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