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CRWM Response 1998 Oversight Report

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1998 Oversight Critique

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REPORT OF OVERSIGHT HEARING ON THE IMPLEMENTATION OF BALLOT QUESTION I

This information provided to the CRWM by Stephen Vantassel (http://icwdm.org).  The report was reproduced here "EXACTLY AS IT WAS RECIEVED FROM THE NATURAL RESOURCE COMMITTEE IN 1998" - TYPO'S AND ALL  Be sure to check out  report critique.

 

 

REPORT OF OVERSIGHT HEARING ON THE IMPLEMENTATION

OF BALLOT QUESTION I

The Committee on Natural Resources and Agriculture held an oversight hearing on March 2, 1998 on the implementation of Question 1. The November, 1996 citizen referendum passed by a 64% - 36% margin. The law was codified in Section 80A of M.G.L. c. 131.

The following report addresses the implementation of Question 1 by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife's ('MDFW').

Increase In Beaver Complaints

    The MDFW maintains that the beaver management problem began with Question 1. To the contrary, MDFW records indicate that the number of beaver plaints have continuously increased at least since 1989, and, in fact, more doubled between 1989 and 1995 from 157 to 356. The maximal cultural carrying capacity, according to Rob Deblinger, the MDFW Chief Wildlife Biologist, is about 18,000 beavers which populate about 30% of the state's wetlands. Female beavers have an average of 4 kits each spring'(,See, "Beavers in Massachusetts, Natural History, Benefits, and Ways to Resolve Conflicts Between People and Beavers," Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife publication.) and the young beavers leave their colony after 2 years to seek now territory and build new dams. There were 18,500 beavers in 1995 and 24,000 beavers in 1996 prior to the passage of Question 1. It seems that the MDFW did not predict the number of new beavers that would settle into new territory in 1997 and 1998, respectively, when the young adults sought new habitat. More to the point, when there was no restriction on padded, leg-hold traps, the MDFW did not control the population growth.

According to MDFW documents, harvested 1,086 beavers in 1993, 1,017 beavers in 1994, 2,083 in 1,133 in 1996. The numbers of beavers and beaver complaints continued to rise throughout this period. There were 24,000 in 1996 prior to the passage of Question 1 - 6,000 above the ideal "cultural carrying capacity."

Mr. Deblinger predicts in various publications that the beaver will grow exponentially to 60,000 in a few short years. (Mr. Deblinger is also quoted as saying, "(t)he law is too restrictive the beaver population is going to grow exponentially if nothing is done." (Middlesex News, 3/12/98). Given the hunting and trapping harvests over the past decade, this number might have been reached despite Question 1. However, according to a report submitted by New York

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wildlife biologist Sharon Brown, and others, it is unlikely that the beaver population will increase to this extent. Relying on nationwide studies, Ms. Brown determined that beavers have a self-regulating reproductive mechanism, (i.e. younger females do not reproduce where populations exceed food supply.) Since beavers are highly territorial, she concluded, they can stabilize at no more than 45% occupancy and probably less in Massachusetts, the third most densely .populated state. The 62,000 acre Allegheny Park in New York, is a helpful illustration. There has been no beaver trapping in this park for twenty-four years, since 1974. Over two decades the growth of the park's beaver population followed a sigmoidal, or S-shaped pattern. Researchers reported that beaver occupancy varied from 40% to 60% - in a park without any humans.

    According to the MDFW, beaver predators, including, coyote, fox, eagle, hawk, bobcat, and owl, are increasing in Massachusetts. This along with disease, road accidents, and trapping, (whatever the extent), all exert pressures on the beaver population.

Non-Lethal Management Techniques

    Even after a major harvest of beaver, populations quickly rebound. All that is required for beavers to flourish is suitable wetland habitat and available food sources. Therefore, a more long-term and effective solution in many cases, is to manipulate the habitat of the beaver in order to control water levels and prevent flooding.

    According to biologists from ME, MN, CO, CT, AZ, and Canada, water control devices, such as "beaver-deceivers", wire mesh, flow pipes, baffles, and "Beaver Stops," successfully divert water at more than 70% of all sites. For example, one seasonal worker with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection installed PVC pipes and fencing at over 100 sites in Connecticut - 70% of these devices are still viable and all problems have been resolved. Connecticut uses volunteers to implement their "small pipe and fencing program." In the 80,000 acre Gatineau Park near Ottawa, Canada, 75% of the beaver problems have been solved by constructing water control devices for the past 18 years. Beaver population stabilized in this Park even after trapping was abandoned as significant method of stopping beaver flooded roads. On the 130,000 acre Penobscot Indian Nation in Maine, biologists have installed 26 highly successful beaver deceivers. In New York, in 1996, the Legislature appropriated several million dollars in the "Clean Water/Air Bond Act," to manage beaver problems by using water flow devices. In Minnesota, prisoners make beaver pipes that are sold to the public at cost. And in Maine, federal funding is used to train trappers and highway crews to install water flow devices. All of these non-lethal devices are relatively inexpensive and most require little maintenance.

    However, the MDFW has not attempted to implement such non-lethal means to address the majority of beaver-created problems, such as private property flooding. Between 1991 and 1996, according to MDFW records, the agency received approximately 3,000 complaints related to Beavers. In these

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six years, the MDFW installed 50 water flow pipes - addressing only 1.6% of the complaints- Mr. Deblinger stated that the MDFW`s galvanized one-size-fits-all pipes work at only 4.5% of all sites (Daily Evening Item, 1/10/98), less than then 10% of all sites (Lowell Sun, 2/15/98), 15% of all sites (Salem Evening News, 5/29197), 20% of all sites (6/22/97, Boston Globe). The range of disparity in these reports regarding the efficacy of water flow devices is perplexing. But even when we rely on MDFW`s lowest estimate of efficacy at only 4.'5% of all sites in the Commonwealth, their own records indicate that they are only using them at 1.6% of the sites. These findings contradict statistics of biologists in numerous states and Canada, as discussed above.

    Mr. Deblinger acknowledged during an MDFW presentation on March 4, 1998, that he has not heard of Beaver Control, Inc. a company located in our backyard in Pepperill, Massachusetts. This company installed over 1,200 "Beaver Stops" in culverts and dams for clients, including, Ducks Unlimited, the Province of Manitoba, Mobil Oil, Canadian National Railway, Petro Canada, Yellowhead Bridge and Maintenance, Canadian Pacific Railway, FSI culvert, Inc., and Alberta Fish and Wildlife. The Beaver Stop prevents the animals from damming the entrance to culverts and requires minimal maintenance. (For more information, call Beaver Control Inc., at 508-433-3100)

    An illustration of the MDFW`s ineffectiveness at controlling floods was provided by the Director of the Department of Public Works in Lunenburg, who testified in person at the oversight hearing. He called the Division for assistance when the town of Lunenburg's main highway was flooded by a beaver dam costing the town more than $4,000 in labor. Erik Amati, Manager of the Northeast District, told the municipality that there was no remedy available. The town called the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals whose expert installed a water flow device for a one-time fee of $225.00. The floods dissipated within hours - the highway has not flooded since, even during this unseasonably wet winter.

    To their credit, the MDFW has recognized the value that wetlands provide and has made efforts over the years to protect beaver-created wetlands. Wetlands abate erosion, provide fisheries, decrease flash flood damage, sponge up floodwaters, decrease water pollution, house endangered species and migrating birds, and naturally cleanse drinking water supplies.

Federal "Pittman-Robertson Fund"

   In 1997, Massachusetts received $1,549,966 in Pittman-Robertson federal funds under the federal Wildlife Restoration Act- The money is based on the number of licenses given in Massachusetts and may be used for different programs including non-game programs, e.g. beaver and coyote related problems and endangered species. Money also goes to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst- Records indicate, that in 1992, for example, the MDFW received $2 million in Pittman-Robertson funds. With a problem of

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exploding beaver complaints a majority of this money could have gone to beaver management problems. It did not.

    In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides money through the "Partnership Program." Massachusetts received, $2,500.00 in 1995, $5,000.00 in 1996, and $5,000.00 in 1997. This fund is to purchase supplies to manage wetlands, such as water flow devices. The State of Maine receives $1 0,000.00 annually based on their projected need. There is also money available from the federal Wetlands Reserve Program that pays landowners who save wetlands. Federal agencies provides free materials for municipalities and homeowners who are eligible for funds, although we are unaware of any municipality that has been informed of its availability by MDFW.(For more information contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New England Office, 22 Bridge Street, Concord, NH 03301-4946, at (603) 225-1411.)

Budget Appropriations

    MDFW has requested a very modest increase in appropriations from the Massachusetts Legislature as evidenced in the 1999 Governor's Budget Recommendations. In the 1999 budget, the Governor requested $568,570 for the administration of the MDFWs responsibilities, a $6,086 increase from last year's request. In the account called "Non-Game Management and Research" the Governor only requests $435,291 - $11,286 more than last year. These increases cover little more than inflation- It appears, that despite a recognized beaver management issue, the MDFW has been ineffectual in convincing their own Governor of the urgency of this problem.

Under the law, certain traps are restricted, not banned.(The steel jaw leghold trap was banned in Massachusetts 23 years ago and is illegal in 80 countries). At the March 2,1998 oversight hearing, the MDFW handed out a chart entitled, "Allowable Trap Types for the Harvest of Furbearers," which states that body gripping traps are banned. To the contrary, the body-gripping conibear trap may be used after an unsuccessful attempt to use the box traps, such as the Hancock, Bailey, or Tomahawk box traps, for 15 consecutive days. Once a trapper catches an animal in a box trap, they can shoot it with a firearm, or take it to the local shelter and gas it. (The Division also condones drowning in their handbook on how to deal with problem animals, even though the American Veterinary Medical Association has called drowning inhumane in general, and for mammals, such as beavers, that can survive underwater for twenty minutes before drowning, this type of death is very painful.)

Restricted Traps

Under the law, certain traps are restricted, not banned.(The steel jaw leghqld tr was banned in Massachusetts 23 years ago and is illegal in 80 countries). At the March 2,1998 oversight hearing, the MDFW handed out a chart entitled, "Allowable Trap Types for the Harvest of Furbearers," which states that body gripping traps are banned. To the contrary, the body-gripping conibear trap may be used after an unsuccessful attempt to use the box traps, such as the Hancock, Bailey, or Tomahawk box traps, for 15 consecutive days. Once a trapper catches an animal in a box trap, they can shoot it with a firearm, or take it to the local shelter and gas it. (The Division also condones drowning in their handbook on how to deal with problem animals, even though the American Veterinary Medical Association has called drowning inhumane in general, and for mammals, such as beavers, that can survive underwater for twenty minutes before drowning, this type of death is very painful.)

 Padded leg-hold traps continue to be allowed if the federal or state departments of health and the MDFW agree that there is a threat to public health

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or safety. According to DPH testimony, the MDFW has called the DPH only six times since 1996.

Box Traps

    Box traps are utilized throughout the country to live trap and kill or relocate animals (In Colorado, for example, a trapper who owns 12 Hancock traps, has caught 350beaver using her traps).. According to testimony given by Mr, Wayne MacCallum, MDFW Director on March 2, 1998, box and suitcase traps were used by the Division during their extensive relocation program until 1988. He testified that this trapping program was very successful. One reason the program ended is because the MDFW had distributed beaver to all regions of the Commonwealth and further relocation efforts were halted.

    The traps that remain unrestricted after Question 1 include any box orsuitcase trap, such as the Hancock, Bailey, and Tomahawk traps. The MDFW did not conduct its first education course for the unrestricted traps until almost one year after passage of Question 1, on October 30, 1997. According to testimony given by Mr. Deblinger at the oversight hearing, although 70 trappers have been trained by the MDFW to use box traps, only 6 of the 400 licensed trappers are using such traps; all 6 are home-made.

    The MDFW testified that the traps are cost prohibitive. The large Hancock and Bailey traps can cost up to $250.00 each. According to the Division, they do not loan their own box traps, and have not implemented a loan, subsidy, or grant program to purchase traps, and did not request new appropriations in this year's budget to purchase traps or hire and train more personnel or new volunteers.

    The MDFW also testified that trappers are concerned that box traps are a liability. The Editor of the MDFW's publication, "Massachusetts Wildlife", in the No. 1, 1997 issue, stated that the conibear trap is "inherently humane and far less hazardous to people and pets than the Hancock trap." However, two of the MDFWs biologists stated at a March 4, 1998 presentation, that not one person nor pet had ever been injured by a box trap in Massachusetts or the entire 7 United States (.See, four articles where 3 dog's necks or heads were caught in conibear traps and owners testified that dogs took 10 or 15 minutes to die). We have not found one lawyer who could indicate that there is any inherent liability problem with box traps. The larger box traps may indeed be more cumbersome to use in certain remote locations than conibear or padded leg-hold traps. But there is nothing in the law preventing the MDFW from handling all beaver problems with conibear traps after a brief trial at using box traps. And questions of determining public health and safety threats are largely at the discretion of the MDFW and DPH. In those cases, padded leg-hold and conibear traps can be used immediately.

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Board of Fisheries and Wildlife

    Question 1 repealed the requirement that 5 of 7 members of the Fisheries and Wildlife Board ("Board") have fishing, hunting, and trapping licenses. The spirit of the law clearly called for a broader constituency of the Board to represent the 97% of the population that do not hold hunting and trapping licenses. On September 6, 1997, Commissioner John Phillips endorsed Governor Cellucci's re-appointment of Chairman George Darey, not only a licensed hunter, but someone quoted as calling for repeal of question, only three months after its passage (Berkshire Eagle, 2/28/97). Later, in a letter dated February 18, 1988, the Commissioner professed to a Lexington constituent after she queried his choice of endorsing Chairman Darey, that ". . . it is only fair for these groups [hunters and trappers] to have general oversight of the agency's operations, and therefore [we] will continue to appoint sportsmen and women to the Board . . . " Whatever the MDFW`s feelings about what is or what is not fair, they cannot with credibility, profess that they are "fully committed" to implementing the law in letter and spirit, by the actions and words of the Commissioner and the Board Chairman alone.

The Division. Trappers Association, and Question 1

    Rob Deblinger, Chief Wildlife Biologist of the MDFW has been published as calling for an outright repeal of the law. In a letter to the editor in the February 15, 1998, Lowell Sun, Mr. Deblinger acknowledged that the MDFW " against Question One, the ballot referendum against trapping, at the time and believes that the only real long lasting solution is to repeal the new law." He also stated that "Question 1 resulted in the prohibition of all effective techniques for controlling beavers." (See, 3/3/98 Middlesex News, and 3/3/98 Boston Globe.)

    In the Massachusetts Trappers Association President's Report, dated November, 1996, the President states, "Our attention was focused on the Ballot Question and what we needed to do to defeat it ... If we lose just think of all the beaver there will be next year when none are taken this year. Yes, I know the season starts Nov. 15, you figure it out. I can't tell you not to trap beaver." The Committee has received reports that trappers are informally, at least, stonewalling this law by refusing to trap. For example, a constituent from the town of Shirley suffering from private property damage and septic tank overflow, had a difficult time locating an experienced trapper to find a solution to his problem. When he did speak with a trapper, the trapper informed him that "our methods {are) completely ineffective," and left the homeowner without a remedy. Fortunately, despite the President's veiled urgings not to trap, the harvest for 1996 and 1997 was only 350 beavers less than the 1993 and 1994 harvest.

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Dam Breaching

    Those suffering from private property damage have alleged that the MDFW has asserted that permits to breach dams can not be issued until the spring, or until April 15th because of Question 1. However, as the following letter from Rob Deblinger attests, the Division policy for issuing breaching permits during the winter has nothing to do with this law:

    "DFW as a practice, does not issue permits to breach beaver dams during winter. This is done for animal welfare reasons. Remember that beaver dams protect wetlands. When water is drained from wetlands during winter, obligate wetland wildlife is often adversely impacted. This not only includes beavers but applies to reptiles and amphibians many of which are state listed as threatened or endangered.

    Many people want to drain wetlands for all sorts of reasons. We only issue breach permits when beaver damming activities have expanded wetlands and caused public health or safety problems or property damage. There are different types of breach permits. We issue breach permits to: 1. install beaver pipes, 2. remove a small section of the dam 3. remove the entire dam.

    A site visit by a DFW biologist is required prior to the issuance of a permit. The biologist and the District Manager consult to determine whether a permit should be issued, and if so what conditions apply. If it is at a time of year when daily low temperatures drop below 32 degrees (F), they generally do not issue permits for fear of causing death to wildlife by freezing. Most situations can be put off until spring.

    There are obvious exceptions: 1. a public health or safety emergency or 2. a breach (usually of a step dam) that effects only a small subset of the wetland where it has recently expanded.

    This is usually not an issue as beaver are not active during winter. We have had an abnormally warm February and March (so far) and beaver are active, so we have had a lot of breach permit requests recently. We remind people that winter can return quicklyl The worst case scenario is where we issue a breach permit this time of year because it is unseasonable warm only to have a below freezing weather event occur. Our valuable wetland then becomes a biological desert as wetland wildlife has frozen in the interim."

Conclusion

    Most of the evidence collected by Committee staff shows that the Division's claims that wildlife management problems have been caused by Question I are inaccurate. It is disturbing that there has been such active opposition on the part of the MDFW, Board, and Trappers Association to truly implement the letter and spirit of the law. Whatever one's feelings about the initiative petition, it is the proper expectation of the voters of Massachusetts that the law be implemented to its fullest extent.

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