Letter: Dubious ‘humanity’ of beaver action
To the editor of THE EAGLE:
The Oct. 19 story "Pittsfield solves beaver problem at Wild Acres pond humanely" gets a few things wrong about trapping and beaver ecology and does not demonstrate the problem will be solved humanely, at least from the beaver’s point of view.
Water level control devices, like the one described in the story, certainly can work to mitigate the effects of beaver activity on the surrounding properties and allow the beavers and the wetlands they create to remain in place. They do not work in all situations, but I assume the Wild Acres pond site is suitable for such a device. However, the timing of installation is what casts the humanity in doubt.
Beavers depend on adequate water depth for their safety and survival over the winter. They store their winter food underwater before their pond ices over and need the water depth to be sufficient to keep the food submerged below the ice all winter. Reducing the water depth this late in the year may result in the beavers’ food supply being inaccessible during the winter and perhaps having the pond freeze to such a depth that the beavers eventually cannot leave their lodge. In that situation, they will slowly starve to death, out of sight of the people who think they solved their problem humanely.
Except in emergencies, water level control devices are best deployed before October, when beavers have adequate time to adjust their behavior to the lower water levels. As a wildlife biologist, I recognize the usefulness of water level control devices but do not pretend that they are always the humane solution.
Regulated trapping of beavers is still legal in Massachusetts, contrary to the story, but the types of devices that are permitted are limited. Trapping is necessary to manage the beaver population and in conjunction with non-lethal techniques can allow beavers and people to share the landscape.
JOHN E. MCDONALD
The writer is Northeast section representative and fellow, The Wildlife Society.
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