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This commentary is by Ray Gonda of South Burlington, who brought the Vermont chapter of the Sierra Club into full chapterhood, was co-founder of the Vermont Conservation Voters, and created a chapter of the Audubon Society while still in elementary school.
Vermont bill S.111 has been proposed to outlaw trapping of furbearing animals by citizens and to allow only paid professionals to trap — raising costs for everyone.
The only benefit to anyone of such restrictions might be the assuaging of sensibilities of some emotionally hypersensitive but determined persons in our society, who, unfortunately, would then go on to attempt to outlaw hunting. This would come at the expense of trapping — a well-regulated, accepted, and well-grounded scientific practice. It is also an important cultural mainstay for many rural people.
Similarly to the present-day culture wars that the predominantly rural political right wing has been promulgating, the urban left wing is now equally culpable for a culture war against rural people. Seven of twenty-five cosponsors of a corresponding House bill are from Burlington.
This demonstrates that the merits of this bill constitute more of a cultural conflict rather than an animal welfare proposal. It may also constitute tit-for-tat political revenge since urban areas tend to liberalism and rural areas to conservativism.
Enjoyment of wildlife and the outdoors has been central to my life. I obtained my inspiration and love of wildlife largely because of having hunted, trapped and fished during my youth. I still hunt and fish. So, what I am about to say I have already lived.
These outdoor activities and experiences, especially trapping, educate by giving an understanding of wildlife that even many game biologists often do not acquire — except from trappers — to the betterment of wildlife management. Such experiences lead trappers to care about and protect wildlife — not so much individual animals as assuring that sufficient populations of all animals continue to flourish — for their own sake.
Trapping requires persistence. It is character-building, par excellence, and is especially important to rural youth. Trapping is essentially self-educational, but it requires state-mandated education and certification as a start.
Trapping teaches entrepreneurship and investment by requiring preseason scouting, purchasing of perhaps 10 traps, seeking landowners’ permission to trap, planning the trap line, and arranging each trap-set for a specific target species. Following that, it requires maintaining the trapline by checking traps every day, collecting the animals caught and resetting traps, if needed, while perhaps walking miles over often untrodden terrain. This commitment in the face of multiple kinds of hardships in all kinds of weather builds competency.
Trapping teaches our youth dependability in maintaining the traps, keeping them clean and odor-free, taking the successful catch home, skinning their pelts, cleaning them, curing them, storing them properly, and caring for them for months, all the while endeavoring, if a student, to get one’s schoolwork done each evening.
Finally, the furs must be marketed by finding a fur buyer. If the season was financially successful, perhaps more traps will follow the next season.
Walking out the door every morning or evening to “run the trapline” leads to acquiring a deep knowledge of wildlife behavior, wildlife travel pathways and habitat needs, wildlife interrelationships and related landscape features — key attributes of conservationists.
The result of all this is a rare and valuable knowledge and skill set otherwise unattainable in an increasingly urban society.
If it is a joint venture with one’s father and/or grandfather, it builds strong permanent kinship bonding.
Animal rights persons nonsensically claim that hunting and trapping diminish wildlife populations. Wildlife management is exactly what helps maintain stable sustainable populations of species.
Animal rights persons claim killing is immoral. If it were immoral, we would not kill sheep, cows and goats for food, or rats and mice as pests. We would avoid killing mosquitos, would not spray lawns with insecticide and we would avoid stepping on ants as we walked about, as the Jain religion adherents do. A line cannot be drawn at furbearers just to suit one’s position.
Animal rights persons also claim that trapping animals is immoral because of the perceived torture to the animals caught. No heed is paid to the tens of thousands of dollars poured into designing foothold traps to be relatively painless to animals caught in them.
Biologists and zoologists use foot traps in many instances to capture animals for research purposes and to restore some endangered species. That is testimony to the experience of the caught animals that are normally released unharmed later. Foothold traps are used because of their high success rates of capture compared to other trapping methods.
Yet animal rights persons go merrily on writing, willfully oblivious to the facts. They compete to see who can outdo the other in describing in exquisite detail all their imagined tortures and horrors that trappers deliberately and maliciously visit on wild animals. They go to great lengths to tarnish the image of our outdoor sports and outdoor traditions. They do their best to smear our fish and wildlife agencies, governing boards and wildlife officials.
Thus, people unfamiliar with hunting and trapping are easily misled.
It is patently obvious that the endgame of animal rights persons is to eliminate both hunting and trapping. But, given the strength and numbers of hunters, they perceive trapping to be an easier target — even though it is just an extension of hunting.