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The  response below to the "Oversight Committee Report"  was written in 1998 and presented to the Natural Resources Committee at that time, by then Massachusetts resident Stephen Vantassel - Animal Damage Control Agent.  It is worth noting that Mr. Vantassel was then, and still is a staunch opponent to the animal rights agenda.  We add his personal response here due to it's factual clarity and the systematic approach taken to refute inaccurate statements.  The CRWM recognizes statements made by Mr. Vantassel at the time were from both a personal and professional perspective and must be taken with that in mind.


Stephen Vantassel CWCP, ACP


Dear Linda Orel and the Natural Resources Committee, 4/2/98

Thank you for taking the time to talk with me on the Thursday, March 24, 1998. I appreciate your willingness to listen to the perspective of us problem animal controllers. I also want to thank you for faxing the Oversight hearing report so promptly. I also need to thank you for asking for this letter. It will be rather detailed.  I am disturbed over your statement that the majority of this report came from the mouth of Dr. Deblinger.  I certainly intend to ask him for his commentary. Certainly being human, he is going to make mistakes. However, I seemed to perceive from your comments that you see a more sinister cause for his alleged errors.
You were quite right to let me read this document before discussing it. As I found numerous errors and informational gaps within it. I will try to list them in order. Page numbers correspond to the pages of the report as faxed to me.

Committee Report Page 1

The first problem with this report stems from the writer's/Committee's seeming lack of understanding about the nature of fur trapping. It is entirely consistent to have increasing beaver problems prior to Question 1.  Trapper activity is governed by a number of factors ranging from personal schedules, health, weather conditions and fur prices. One nasty winter can easily reduce fur trapping as can low fur prices. Thus the MDFW can be entirely consistent in claiming that the present problem was caused by Question 1.
As for the padded jaw trap, I have no idea why this is even in the report. Fur trappers, or any knowledgeable trapper would never choose to use a padded jaw trap to catch beaver when a regular steel jaw trap is available. The reasons for this stem from cost to possibly the effectiveness of capture.
On paragraph 3 of page 1, it speaks of "hunting and trapping harvests". This is an odd phrase given that beaver are not hunted for fur in the state. The only time they are shot is when they are deemed to be such problem (outside of the fur season) that a depredation permit is issued. To call shooting beaver a hunting harvest is an oxymoron.

Committee Report Page 2.

I think the evidence of beaver self regulation in regards to population is at best very weak. With this type of attitude or perspective every animal on the planet is self regulating in one way or the other. Ordinary people call it starvation. The report also failed to adequately evaluate the data of the Allegheny Park Report, specifically in the area of how much beaver trapping occurred outside the parks' boundaries. The park could have easily been a reservoir for beavers that was regularly reduced by exterior trapping. Perhaps not, but the question still needs to be asked and answered.
The statement that beavers quickly rebound after a major harvest fails to properly understand the nature of the resource and macro environmental policy. If prime wetland beaver habitat is heavily trapped, it provides room for the new generation of emancipated adults. To suggest that there is as much flooding and damage after a major harvest flies in the face of the facts and common sense. On the other hand, rebounding beaver populations is a good thing when the beaver is looked upon as a renewable resource. Only when seen as a pest is rapid population rebound a problem. Thus an open and sensible fur trapping season and regulations is a long term approach to beaver control. Only to those against fur trapping is a regulated and sensible fur taking laws NOT a long term approach.
Regarding beaver flow pipes et al, the report failed to define what constituted successful beaver pipe installation. The report is simply too vague at what constitutes success. Success should be clearly defined such as the pipe controlled flooding to a level tolerable to the neighbors for at least one calendar year. Success should also include how often the pipe be inspected. If a pipe needed daily maintenance, I wouldn't view the pipe as a success. For one could simply breach the dam on a daily basis with the same result (understand that dam breaching requires a permit).

Committee Report Page 3

The report criticizes the MDFW for not installing more pipes. I didn't see any documentation that they were obligated to install all these devices. I would hope that the Legislature wouldn't want biologists to be wasting their time on pipe installation when their skills could be better spent on research. The report also failed to note that the MDFW provided education to Highway Supt. on the use of beaver pipes. The report also failed to mention the MDFW publication on beaver pipes. Dr. Deblinger's changing figures on the effective percentage of beaver pipes is disturbing. However, final judgment should be withheld until further inquiry. Print media is notoriously inaccurate in how they report about wildlife. For example, the Springfield Sunday Republican in a front page story on beavers talked of footholds as if they were kill traps. I think that Dr. Deblinger should be given the benefit of the doubt here. If he made a mistake, he should of course correct it as should everyone. It is also conceivable that percentages could change as the success of the pipes changed and as more pipes were installed. I don't see any reason why the Pittman-Robertson money should be used for solving beaver problems. The MDFW likes beaver. The beaver problem is not a problem for them. It is a problem for those living around beaver. The MDFW wants beaver to be controlled by a regulated fur harvest.

Committee Report Page 4

As for budget appropriations, I think it is great that an agency is actually trying to reign in rampant spending. It would seem that the MDFW doesn't need to convince the Governor, it needs to convince the Legislature to overturn Question 1. I was amazed at the failure to properly talk about the foothold trap. It wasn't banned 23 years ago as the footnote suggests. Only the land use of the foothold was banned. Trappers have been using steel jaw footholds in water sets legally for years in Massachusetts. If this wasn't true, why would the anti's push for question 1? This is just another proof of how little the public and legislators know about trapping. (By the way, I offer the opportunity for legislators or their staffers to accompany me as I perform animal damage control. I am an animal damage controller so I trap year round solving problems for clients. I want to encourage them to come on out and see what really goes on in the animal damage control industry) If Springfield is too far, I am confident that colleagues closer to Boston can be found. As for the 80 countries banning legholds, this statement is irrelevant. Most of those countries don't have valuable aquatic or terrestrial furbearers. The statement also fails to question whether the animal control/capture methods used in those countries are any more humane (for example it hasn't been proven that the leg snare used in Europe is any more humane than the foothold) Again if footholds are so cruel and damaging to the animal, why would they be used in otter reintroduction programs? See Trapping and Furbearer Management: Perspectives from the North East p. 27).
I almost laughed when I read that a trapper can take a box trapped beaver to the local shelter to get it gassed. I would like the reporter/committee to list all the shelters prepared and willing to do this.  The reporter/committee also failed to do his/her research on the the AVMA report. Specifically see page 233 bottom of second column; Page 243 bottom of column 1). These caveats by the committee are rarely mentioned by animal rights groups. It should also be noted by the committee that Question 1 didn't address how animals were killed. It dealt with how they were captured. This is just another indication of how sloppy the thinking was during the preparation of this document.

Committee Report Page 5

I read with amazement Dr. Deblinger's alleged assertion, that only 6 of the 400 licensed trappers use box traps and that all six use homemade traps. This is patently false. My company purchased a hancock trap soon after question 1 passed. We now have two Hancocks and one Bailey. I don't use homemade traps. We have caught a total of four beaver with those traps so far, if memory serves. So obviously the committee and/or the speaker failed to do its research if this statement is to be trusted at face value. I think what Dr. Deblinger might have meant was that there were only six trappers controlling beaver for free, and that these individuals used homemade traps. Again, I don't know the context of his statements. But I have a hard time believing that he could have made such a blunder. Then again, he has more on his mind than I.  The reporter's/Committees criticism of the trappers' apprehension about box traps was one of the best red herring arguments I have seen in a while. First of all, the Bailey and Hancock traps are NOT ordinary box traps. I am not afraid of my box traps hurting me. The Bailey and Hancock traps are a threat to my person and to anyone to gets in the way of their jaws when it closed. I think anyone who doesn’t' respect 1/2 inch thick coiled springs must know very little about traps. I also find it ironic that the Animal rights activists claimed so many injuries and potential injuries to pets etc. with legally set footholds and conibears, that they would claim that the Hancock and Bailey trap is somehow a safer alternative.   As for not one person not being injured by a box trap, this is also patently untrue. One of the MDFW biologists in the Western District was injured by Hancock that sprung prematurely. (This information came from Dr. Deblinger , confirmed when I spoke with him on April 1, 1998). Again the Committee has demonstrated it sloppy research techniques. As for not finding a lawyer who could find an inherent liability problem with the trap, would you like me to find one?
Again why is it the MDFW's job to trap beaver? I would like to see the citation of this responsibility in the charter.

Committee Report Page 6

This is just a personal question. Since when do government officials care about the spirit of the law? If they did, they would know that Question 1 didn't apply to mole traps which are presently banned, namely the harpoon, out of site, and the Nash Mole trap.  The personal attitudes of Dr. Deblinger and George Darey are their own. I believe that they still have the right to freedom of thought. The bias of the chairman against trapping is his right as well. Thus talking about this issue is irrelevant.  I find it strange that the report sought to criticize the Mass. Trappers Association. My understanding was that they had no legal obligation to trap beavers. If they consider the law as unjust to them, they have every right to boycott or withhold themselves from the privilege of trapping. (By the way, the loss of a very important part of their lifestyle affects many of them very deeply) Fur trappers, being an oppressed societal subgroup, only have one recourse, namely to allow the beavers, coyotes and muskrat to make their case for them. The vote in favor of Question 1 was an insult to the activity of these people and they are rightly offended by it. For people, who knew how restrictive trapping was even prior to Question 1 to claim that footholds and conibears are cruel flies in the face of all the data. I look forward to the state banning cruel cars that indiscriminately crush tens of thousands of animals each year. The logic that was used against legal fur trapping could just as easily be applied to rat traps, mouse traps, and cars.  It is certainly sad that the trapper being quoted, assuming it is an accurate quote, wasn't more accurate in his criticism of Question 1. I certainly don't want to condone untruthfulness. I just wish the oversight committee would take the same look at the advertising done during the Question 1 vote.
The conclusion of this document demonstrates the animal rights bias of the reporter/Committee. The trappers association desire not to trap is in full agreement with the spirit of the law. The law was initiated by people who wanted to curtail fur trapping by imposing harsh regulations that were in effect an economic sanctions against it. The fur trappers simply agreed and decided it was not economically feasible to continue to trap under these new even harsher terms. This of course assumes fur trappers were making any money in the first place. In reality, the new law made it so difficult for these fur trappers to continue to enjoy their hobby, many decided to give it up. It is patently unfair to then criticize them for not trapping when they didn't want this law in the first place. If the legislature wants them to trap, why not put a bounty on beaver. I would guarantee that if the legislature placed a 100 dollar bounty on beaver, trappers would solve the beaver population explosion in a couple of weeks.

As for my conclusion, I find the following items disturbing. Please be aware that my understanding is that this report represents the position of the Committee. If this is wrong, please accept my apology in advance. But whoever believes the items criticized in this document, these concerns are for your edification.

That the Committee didn't invite the Massachusetts Association of Problem Animal Controllers to participate. Perhaps you weren't aware of us. Most people are not. Now that you are, I hope you would consult us in the future. You can contact our President Joe Renna at 1-781-767-4177.
That Ms. Orel and perhaps Committee members didn't know that mole traps (ones listed above) were banned, even though they are the only effective method to control moles. Not to mention traps don't pollute or poison the land. This was one issue that the Oversight report could have justifiably criticized the Wildlife Board's decision.
That the reporter/Committee didn’t' do his/her/their own research to check on the laws, regs and terms being used in this document to ensure accuracy. It would seem important to try to get an understanding of the issues before one sits down and launch a criticism that could be thought of as slanderous against an agency and various individuals.
That the reporter/Committee included issues, like drowning, that reside beyond the debate concerning Question 1. In effect these secondary issues simply muddied the waters and did little more than to put animal rights activist language on the public record.
That the reporter/committee didn't provide a list of recommendations that would solve the problem as they see it, in accordance with Question 1. In short, I saw the document long on criticism and short on solutions. That the committee failed to mention the Chelmsford example. Here was a perfect opportunity for pro-beaver pipe forces (not that I am anti pipe) to prove that they work so wonderfully.

I want to thank the committee for the opportunity to express my beliefs. I also want the committee to know that I stand ready to debate/defend my beliefs against anyone espousing an animal rights agenda.

Yours in Animal Damage Control,

Stephen Vantassel

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