Wildlife group joins calls for Hamilton to suspend trapping

A Stoney Creek resident who discovered a pair of beaver traps on conservation lands is calling on councillors to cut funding to the authority pending an independent review, despite the legal nature of trapping the animal.
Alice Willems, a former Parks Canada employee who lives in Stoney Creek, found a pair of beaver traps at Fifty Point Conservation Area. She's calling on Hamilton councillors to suspended the Hamilton Conservation Authority's funding while the practice of trapping is reviewed. (Courtesy of Alice Willems)

A Vancouver-based wildlife advocacy group is calling on Hamilton to ban traditional trapping methods, asking the city to use non-lethal and implement “co-existence” projects instead.

The call for action comes on the heels of news that the Hamilton Conservation Authority (HCA) will temporarily suspend its decade-old practice of trapping beavers after a complaint from a Stoney Creek resident who discovered a pair of traps at a local conservation area. The authority wants to control beaver populations to minimize damage to trails and trees.

“Trapping has long been the response when concerns about flooding or tree damage are raised,” said Michael Howie, a spokesperson for the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals (APFA), in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. “But that does not mean it needs to continue. In fact, we have seen time and time again the principles of co-existence succeeding in a variety of settings – rural, suburban and urban – and believe that it is the wildlife management tool of the future.”

Alice Willems, a former Parks Canada employee of 11 years, said she was horrified when she found the traps at Fifty Point Conservation Area where she walks regularly. She is calling on local councillors to cut funding to the authority pending an independent review, despite the legal nature of trapping the animal.

Willems said neither of the traps had their intended target, as a turtle and muskrat found their way into the traps instead.

“It just looked like a medieval piece of torture, “ Willems said. “I didn’t know those things were still being used.”

The traps were found in an area marked off by caution tape, some three to four meters off the walking path.

Gord Costie, the HCA’s director of customer service, said the authority approved the trapper who has already pulled one beaver from the area this year.

“They were burrowing holes through the shorelines of one of the ponds at our conservation area making it hazardous for people,” Costie said, explaining why the HCA called in a trapper.

Since the complaint and media coverage Tuesday, the HCA has suspended trapping in their parks. It noted one beaver had been trapped from Fifty Point this season, but Costie said the practice is by no means an annual event, and is used sparingly with a relatively low beaver population in the Hamilton area, compared to population sizes further north.

He cited damage to trees and flooding of roads and pathways as the primary reasons they control the beaver population on HCA grounds.

Regardless, Costie said the HCA was open to reviewing the practice, which will start when the subject is brought up at Thursday’s HCA Board of Directors meeting.

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources said the traps found in Hamilton, known as body-gripping traps, are one of the ministry-approved methods to harvest beaver. 

Jolanta Kowalski, a spokesperson for the ministry, also cautioned against relocating the population.

“Relocating wildlife, including beavers, may cause more harm than good, with undesirable consequences for both people and wildlife,” said Kowalski.

Regardless, the issue will be on the agenda of Thursday’s Board of Directors meeting, which includes several Hamilton councillors who received Willems request to suspended funding to the HCA.

“I recognize that it’s necessary and I have no argument for that,” Willems said. “But in this particular instance, I would argue that there is no danger to public safety.”

While Willems received several replies of support for her inquiry, the councillor responses – including those from Brian McHattie, Tom Jackson and Brad Clark – did not address her request to suspend funding to the authority.

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources regulates beaver trappers in the province. A single trapper will be assigned a trapline which they can harvest pelts in a sustainable manner.

The Fur Council of Canada has previously said a beaver pelt can fetch upwards of $35.