This commentary is by Bruce Baroffio of Northfield, president of the Vermont Trappers Association.
We have all experienced nuisance animals, such as hearing about skunks under porches, raccoons in the attic, foxes killing chickens, fisher preying on cats, coyotes attacking dogs and livestock, and volumes could be written about beaver complaints.
But, have you ever wondered why? Why do these animals cause us trouble instead of living out in the woods where they belong?
One big reason is lack of habitat. All animals need habitat that suits their particular needs. A beaver’s habit can be as small as the pond he has built while a coyote’s habitat is measured in square miles. All animals need enough territory in their habitat to find food, shelter and a safe place to raise their young.
Given a suitable habitat, one thing all animals have in common is they raise young. During the spring and summer, when living is easy and resources are plentiful, life is good. When fall comes, however, all the young are unceremoniously kicked out and driven off to find their own way.
Here is where the problem begins. Everywhere these dispersing animals go, they are attacked and driven away by the animals that already live there. Unlike a Disney movie or the dog park, the animals in the woods do not all frolic and play together as friends. The exact opposite is true. Every animal in the wild protects its territory fiercely. If they lose it, they die.
Imagine coming home from work and finding a stranger living in your house, eating your food and sleeping in your bed. How would you feel? That is how an animal feels when they encounter one of their own kind in their territory. This is why these dispersing animals wind up in marginal habitat close to people. They have no choice; there is no place else.
That is why people have recurring problems year after year, which is why the beavers seem to keep plugging the culvert and flooding the road every year. Removing the problem animal works only until the next wandering one comes along. Because of this, nuisance animal problems are widespread. But it is a relatively recent phenomenon.
I grew up in the 1970s and during that time nuisance trapping was the exception, not the rule. Why? Because at that time there was a worldwide demand for fur. The United States and Canada have more furbearing animal species than the rest of the world combined. It is estimated that up to one-third of the population was harvested each winter. We exported fur all over the world — China, Russia, Greece, Italy and more. That’s right, we exported something TO China.
Because fur had economic value, the harvest was carefully regulated so that the resource was not negatively impacted. This harvest created space for the dispersing animals to inhabit.
It was during the 2000s that politics, economics and fashion trends caused the value of fur to drop.
That resulted in the reduction of the harvest and a decrease in the available space for young animals to disperse. Thus, bringing us 20 years later to where we are today with increasing nuisance animals.
There is a small vocal minority of people who want to end trapping altogether. If they succeed, the controlled take will be gone, and nuisance trapping will increase — with corresponding wanton waste.
One only has to look as far south as Massachusetts to see it. If trapping is eliminated, these animals will wind up in your backyard. They have no place else to go.
And as a footnote, all the people who use live traps to capture and relocate animals instead of killing them are only fooling themselves when they think that they are being humane and compassionate. The relocated animals are just being dropped back into the vicious cycle of being driven off and attacked as they try to find a place that does not exist.