Conservation and Trapping News

Will Staats: Vermont’s trapping culture is being threatened
May 7, 2023 10:16 ET

[Reprinted from original]

This commentary is by Will Staats, a wildlife biologist, hunter and trapper who lives in Victory, Vermont.

One bright early spring morning 55 years ago, I broke my way through the thin ice of a local marsh in central Vermont to check two traps and was thrilled to find my first muskrat. As the icy water poured in over the tops of my cheap rubber boots, I paid little attention to my feet rapidly turning numb while proudly holding the furry rodent aloft for my buddy standing on shore to see.

This one event would change the course of my life, helping to launch a career in wildlife conservation. All these decades later, I cannot hear the song of a red-winged black bird perched on a cattail without reliving this transformative moment in my life.

I took my brother and the neighborhood kids trapping. I watched them catch their first muskrat and labor over skinning and stretching the pelt. Together we roasted muskrat meat skewered on sticks over a campfire. On the trapline, they learned about life and death, honed their woods skills and experienced a unique connection with the natural world and wildlife that simply can’t be experienced any other way. These are memories they carry with them as adults today.

Will our legislators deny all future generations of Vermonters this experience because one small segment of society doesn’t believe in this practice?

Once again the anti-trapping activists are asking that a bill — S.111 — be passed that would eliminate what they have described as “recreational” trapping. This is despite the fact that a bill further regulating trapping was passed just last year and the regulatory process surrounding it is well underway in a first of its kind move to institute best management practices into law.

How disappointing that we see a bill to end trapping before this historic work is completed. Best management practices for trapping are designed to minimize animal suffering and eliminate nontarget animals and pets.

The very term ”recreational trapping ” is misleading and an attempt to demean what trapping entails. It implies that anyone can pick up a trap and spend a weekend “recreating” while pursuing furbearers. To describe trapping as “recreational” is an inaccurate representation of this cultural activity that has been practiced by generations of Vermonters.

Instead, it is a way of life for Vermonters that takes careful study and commitment and requires an intimate understanding of furbearers and their habitats, along with specialized woods skills to ensure success.

This bill would totally eliminate Vermonters’ ability to trap for fur and food as we have for generations. Instead, it would allow landowners (perhaps unskilled in the use of traps) to trap on their own land or to hire wildlife control technicians to trap the problem animal. Unmanaged furbearer populations will lead to an increase in human/wildlife conflicts, resulting in more animals caught indiscriminately by intolerant, inexperienced landowners or by hired control technicians and then wasted.

Currently licensed Vermont trappers operating within legal trapping seasons make use of harvested animals, processing the pelts for sale or clothing and often the meat for food as well. Beaver, muskrat, raccoon, bobcat provide delicious organic meat.

While in the process of ignoring and dismissing last year’s bill, anti-trappers describe the new proposed bill as a “compromise.” Compromise implies there is give and take on both sides of the discussion. There has been no compromise by those trying to end trapping.

Something is seriously wrong with our legislative process when those most affected by this legislation, the Vermont men and women who have trapped for generations, are valued so little that some legislators are willing to support a bill that would ultimately change their way of life forever.

Vermont prides itself for its inclusivity, welcoming and respecting a diversity of people who share our tiny state. Why, then, would anyone attempt to erase our trapping and hunting culture, which has been practiced in this state since Indigenous people stalked through Vermont’s virgin forests?

The answer is that well-heeled anti-trapping groups have propagandized the conversation with misinformation and inflammatory rhetoric. There has been no compromise with these groups, which have nothing to lose and only a desire to rid our shared landscape of hunters and trappers, regardless of the devastating impacts this will have on the families who hold these traditions dear.

Sadly, the land around the marsh where I caught my first muskrat is now slated for a large housing project. No longer will there be 10-year-old children wading through the cattails on spring mornings. In time, the muskrats and red-winged black birds will disappear.

True advocates for wildlife recognize that the real threat to our wildlife is not trapping, but the proliferation of development that continues to erode Vermont’s remaining wildlife habitat.

If this bill becomes law, Vermonters will no longer have the choice to experience this unique way of life and the connection it forges with the natural world — a connection that endears trappers to the wild places where furbearers live. And who will stand up for the marshes, beaver ponds and mountaintops when our trappers and hunters are gone?