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Barbara Felitti: It’s time to ban recreational and fur trapping

This commentary is by Barbara Felitti, a resident of Huntington who retired after working for 28 years at the Institute for Sustainable Communities in Montpelier and as a consultant for international community development and NGO support work.

It’s time for the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department 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).

Fish & Wildlife 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. (See page 49 of the draft document “Vermont Residents’ Attitudes Towards Furbearer Management” 2022 by Responsive Management. The document was obtained from Fish & Wildlife through a public records request.)

So why are Fish & Wildlife 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. Dogfighting and cockfighting 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 lifelong Vermonters are part of the 62% to 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 nonlethal 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. Fish & Wildlife’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 Fish & Wildlife staff see disagreements with department policy as having to deal with “detractors” who are discrediting their work (Fish & Wildlife staff email Oct. 20, 2021, obtained through a public records request). 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” for trapping. Trappers in a working group to advise on best management practices wouldn’t even agree to limit killing of trapped animals to gunshot only. They still want to be able to use inhumane methods — for example, bludgeoning, stomping, or choking — to kill trapped wildlife. A best management practices-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 best management practices are an oxymoron and a misdirection. It is an attempt to make an inhumane activity sound more acceptable. Should we have best management practices for dogfighting rather than banning it? 

Going forward, I have concerns about how Fish & Wildlife 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 Fish & Wildlife, the governor’s office, Agency of Natural Resources and an ethics complaint to correct inaccurate statements in Fish & Wildlife’s Big Game Management Plan 2020-2030. 

It was a simple request to remove two sentences that did not accurately reflect public comment received by the department and that 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 Fish & Wildlife 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” toward Fish & Wildlife staff. In my opinion, Fish & Wildlife’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 as an ethical lapse. It appears that to the Agency of Natural Resources and the governor’s office, this is maligning Fish & Wildlife’s good work. 

Wildlife is held in trust for all Vermonters. Gov. Scott recently wrote of the need to “listen.” I agree. The governor, Fish & Wildlife 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? 

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