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I-177 ends historic cruelty

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“Every intelligent man saw the poverty that would follow the destruction of the beaver” observed the fur trade explorer David Thompson in 1797. Four years later, Thompson described how “almost the whole of the extensive countries were denuded of beaver, the natives became poor.”

Many Montanans today are surprised to learn that thousands of beaver are trapped in Montana every year using equipment and methods largely unchanged in more than two hundred years. But the result remains the same — a cruel death by jaws of steel.

David Thompson once recovered a trap with a severed leg in it. The beaver had gnawed off its own paw to escape, but two days later, the same beaver was caught again. Another time, a beaver managed to swam away with a trap still attached to its leg, only to drown some days later in another trap.

David Thompson also reported on the Indians’ misgivings about trapping: “We are now killing beaver without any labour, we are now rich, but shall soon be poor, for when the beaver are destroyed we have nothing to depend on to purchase what we want for our families.”

Thompson knew the Indians were right, but he didn’t know how to help. Fortunately, today, we do.

The restoration of beavers in the 20th century is a tremendous success story. Beaver dams create wetlands and meadows that improve water quality and increase biodiversity. And their dam building stores water for summer irrigation and recreation including fishing. Letting beavers be beavers is a simple solution to water conservation.

It’s plain to see that trapping adversely affected native peoples as well as natural ecosystems by decimating beaver populations. In modern society, however, it makesno sense to allow the commercial exploitation of beaver and other fur-bearing species to suit the whims and fancies of fashion.

Trapping is part of Montana’s heritage to be sure, but it’s time that we embrace the values, ethics, and science of the 21st century. Banning trapping on Montana’s public land is a way to make things right by correcting a historic injustice.

Vote yes on I-177.

James Rogers


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