In his column here last week, George Smith accused me and WildWatch Maine, the statewide wildlife advocacy group I direct, of “viciously,” “unfairly,” and disrespectfully attacking Maine’s “hunting, trapping, and fishing heritage.” (“Hunting, trapping, fishing are part of our Maine heritage,” Oct. 11).

It was a sweeping and disturbing charge. The apparent trigger for such vehemence was our criticism of Maine’s aggressive beaver-trapping policy.

During its recent season-setting process on beavers, WildWatch and individuals from across Maine encouraged the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to more fully embrace non-lethal techniques, such as high-quality flow devices, to protect road culverts from being dammed by beavers and prevent flooding damage.

It’s too bad Smith resorted to demonizing beavers in his column, because aggressive beaver trapping prevents them from fulfilling their unique role as a keystone species. The rich wetlands beavers create support thousands of other wildlife species. If culverts are not protected, all nearby beavers are trapped and when that happens, wetlands are drained and benefits are lost.

Such an approach would also be more humane. Beavers in Maine are trapped with underwater snares, drowning sets, steel leghold traps, and traps that crush beavers’ necks or spinal columns.

Smith objected to my use of the adjective “brutal” to describe these methods, but then entirely shifted the topic from trapping to a sentimental reflection of his last turkey hunt with his father. He said, “If the WildWatch people would read my story about Dad’s last hunt, they would gain an appreciation of what hunting is all about.”

Considering that WildWatch and I distinguish trapping from hunting, as I believe the majority of Maine citizens do, and that we have only ever criticized particular hunting practices that we believe to be unethical, I might have been perplexed by this off-topic transition.

I’m aware, however, that the underlying aims of Smith’s piece reflect the well-established messaging strategies of the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, the National Rifle Association, and other powerful special interest groups. These groups rally and unite their constituents with the message that anyone who raises objections of any kind to any aspect of trapping or hunting is an “anti” out to smear a noble “outdoor heritage.”

Contrary to Smith’s claims, WildWatch Maine is not an anti-hunting group. We are for giving ethical and ecological considerations a much larger role in wildlife policy and decision-making.

It’s time for wildlife managers to adopt more thoughtful policies that reflect public interest in healthy, biodiverse ecosystems and the well-being of wildlife. Wildlife advocates are tired of being denigrated and dismissed. We are all stakeholders in the future of Maine’s wildlife, and we and our views deserve respect and consideration.

Karen Coker is the director of WildWatch Maine.

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