The Prohibition of Regulated Trapping Beaver activity washed out this road.
Chelmsford, Massachusetts is located about 20 miles northwest of the city of Boston and encompasses approximately 23 square miles. The first European settlement in the area was a fur trading post, established due to the abundance of beaver in the local wetlands. Today there are still approximately 870 acres of wetlands within the town, but it is now a densely settled suburban community with over 32,000 residents (1,357 per square mile). Local government is conducted through open town meetings and administered by five elected selectmen.
During the late 1980s, a national animal rights group developed a "model" for getting trapping ban initiatives passed by town, county and sate governments. The model guidelines encouraged animal rights activists to disguise regulated trapping as a public safety/animal welfare issue. Exactly in accordance with such direction, an article to ban trapping was introduced at a Chelmsford town meeting in 1988.
State wildlife experts reminded residents that regulated trapping was not a public safety issue, and warned that if regulated trapping were banned, there would be numerous undesirable consequences in the form of property damage and wildlife habitat degradation. Despite the warnings, the article was passed, and the trapping of furbearing mammals within the town was prohibited.
Prior to passage of the trapping ban, there were usually one to three complaints of beaver damage in the town each year. Following the ban, the beaver population, unchecked, began to grow rapidly, and the animals began to move into many previously unoccupied wetlands. Beaver dams began to flood houses and roadways. In 1992, state wildlife biologists working at the request of town officials investigated 25 beaver complaint sites. Two of these complaint sites were municipal wells which had been shut down (at a cost of $25,000) because of beaver flooding, and four other municipal wells were threatened. Individual landowners in town had incurred tens of thousands of dollars in damages to private wells, septic systems, lawns and roadways. The increasing beaver population and increasing property damage were directly related to the decision of the town's citizens to ban regulated trapping and allow uncontrolled beaver population growth to commence.
State wildlife officials offered the town several recommendations: (1) use water flow devices to reduce flooding in some areas, (2) get permits to breach beaver dams in other locations, and (3) rescind the trapping ban bylaw to allow beaver populations to be brought under control. The town took positive steps to implement these recommendations. The state issued permits to breach beaver dams that were disabling wells and septic systems. State wildlife personnel installed water flow devices (beaver pipes) at two sites and assisted town water department personnel with a third pipe. At a special town meeting in September, 1992, town citizens voted by a two-to-one margin to allow regulated public trapping to resume. During the regular trapping season later that fall and winter, four fur harvesters working with homeowners and town officials removed 87 beaver. Today, with public, regulated trapping restored, Chelmsford again has only one to three beaver complaints per year. These are handled as they had been prior to 1988, under an effective and responsible program incorporating state wildlife officials and local fur harvesters.
In Massachusetts, the state wildlife agency has a well developed management plan for beaver. The goals of this plan are to manage beaver resources as assets, not liabilities; perpetuate beaver populations for future generations; keep the beaver population at levels compatible with suitable habitat; minimize property damage caused by beaver; manage beaver for their positive wetland values, and allow people the sustainable use of public resources.
Chelmsford residents were confounded by animal rights activists who had promised in 1988 and again in 1992 to install water flow devices and proposed to "sterilize" beaver in the town (a technique that is not feasible on a free-roaming beaver population,) Over the four years of the trapping ban, the activists never acted on their promises and were never held accountable for the statements they put forth.
The case study you just read was written several years ago. Recently, the state of Massachusetts passed a ballot initiative that severely restricts trapping. As a result, complaints about property damage and health concerns related to beaver activity have dramatically increased. We have asked a biologist from the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Wildlife to give us an update about the situation.
Epilogue - A State Ballot Referendum
Submitted by Susan Langlois – Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
7 July 1999
Subsequent to the town of Chelmsford reinstating regulated trapping as a management tool to control the beaver population, changes to Massachusetts state law ensued during the November 5, 1996 election. A major political ad campaign was undertaken by several animal rights organizations which spent $1.2 million in a statewide ballot referendum. As a result, a statewide change to Massachusetts law created restrictions similar to the Chelmsford anti- trapping bylaw. The new law dramatically changed the types of traps that licensed trappers could lawfully use to control beaver populations statewide.
The net effect of the new law maximizes the number of beavers found in Massachusetts. A maximized beaver population significantly increases property damage, health and safety issues and other beaver related problems incurred by citizens. Now the same conditions that were evident in Chelmsford during their trapping ban have expanded throughout the state. The statewide beaver population has grown significantly from an estimated 24,000 in 1996 to more than 52,000 in 1999. Citizen complaints related to beaver activity continue to increase from an average of 310 per year (1991-96) to 585 per year since the law came into effect.
Beaver populations can no longer be maintained at reduced levels. This constitutes a major change in the way beaver are managed. The state’s beaver management program has historically been proactive – maintaining the beaver population at levels compatible with suitable wetland habitat and human needs. The new law eliminates proactive, regulated management, yielding an uncontrolled expansion of the beaver population. Like the previous Chelmsford bylaw, it only allows the citizens of Massachusetts to take reactive measures to beaver causing property damage. Instead of viewing beaver as valuable wildlife, more and more people are viewing beaver as a pest to be eliminated.
Due to the increase in the beaver population and the related increase in health and safety concerns and property damage, two bills have been introduced into the Massachusetts Legislature to repeal or significantly amend the existing statewide law. In addition, legislation has been submitted to appropriate $1.5 million to begin to pay for the property damage caused by increasing beaver populations. The appropriation of monies was not needed in the past when proactive management programs employed regulated trapping to control beaver populations and address property damage problems. To date, the statewide ban on traps continues.