The MSPCA and PETA are protesting Framingham’s plan to kill beavers

"Declaring a war against beavers for simply doing what beavers do is cruel and foolish."

FRAMINGHAM, MA - 12/12/2018: At the end of Crosby Circle in Framingham, a dam and the beaver lodge are within easy view of the cul-de-sac. They have been very busy cutting down many trees at Baiting Brook.   (David L Ryan/Globe Staff ) SECTION: METRO TOPIC 13beavers
–David L Ryan / The Boston Globe

Animal rights advocates are trying to stop Framingham’s “war” on beavers before it’s too late.

Following reports that the city had gotten approval to begin trapping and killing beavers in the hopes of resolving local flooding problems, both the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have sent letters to local officials urging them to reconsider.

Both groups are asking Framingham to ditch their plan to cull the animals in favor of several potential alternative solutions that they say are both more humane and effective in the long term.

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“Declaring a war against beavers for simply doing what beavers do is cruel and foolish,” Stephanie Bell, PETA’s senior director of cruelty casework, told Boston.com in a statement.

As the MetroWest Daily News and Boston Globe reported earlier this week, Framingham’s Department of Public Works received permission from the local Board of Health and Conservation Commission to hire a contractor to set lethal traps for beavers, after their dams contributed to rising waters that have flooded some local roads, resulting in black ice and even spilling into a city sewer line.

Robert McArthur, the administrator of the Conservation Commission, says he was told the trapper will use wired, above-water traps to catch the beavers, which will then be euthanized. However, McArthur did add that, for the sake of “expediency,” the trapper does have permission to use Conibear traps, which catch the animals underwater and drown them.

While it might seem a reasonable solution, simply relocating the beavers — or wildlife of any kind — is illegal under state law for a number of reasons, including the possibility that the animal could be killed trying to track home, struggle to survive in the new area, or disrupt another ecosystem.

According to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, the state’s beaver population has tripled since 1996, when voters approved a ballot measure banning most types of animal traps. MassWildlife says the population boom has “led to some negative impacts.” In the Bay State, the furry, tree-gnawing rodents — which have inhabited North America for 7.5 million years — are increasingly expanding into areas more populated by humans. And Framingham is hardly the first local municipality to consider culling them to solve their issues.

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Marion Larson, a MassWildlife spokeswoman, says the state has also seen a recent, significant uptick in calls about flooding issues being caused by beaver dams due to the high levels of rain received this fall. McArthur, who says this is the first trapping effort in Framingham since 2014, believes the weather “exacerbated a problem that we might not have had, if not for the rain.”

“For the most part, the beavers don’t cause too much trouble,” he told Boston.com.

At the end of Crosby Circle in Framingham, a dam and beaver lodge are within easy view of the cul-de-sac. —David L Ryan / The Boston Globe

Still, McArthur said Wednesday evening that the trapping had begun as a short-term solution. He says he’s fielded countless calls and emails from local residents who are concerned about the plan’s humaneness.

Kara Holmquist, the MSPCA’s director of advocacy, says it shouldn’t be a choice between killing beavers and accepting flooding.

“The good thing about this is that there are these great alternatives,” Holmquist told Boston.com.

While beavers are adept at quickly repairing efforts by humans to make holes in their dams, the MSPCA advocates for the use of pipe or cage water flow devices, otherwise known as Beaver Deceivers, which keep the water moving and prevent beavers from closing the opening. Holmquist says the fact that more than a thousand such devices have been installed across the state should be evidence that trapping is a failed method.

“These devices are not only cost-effective, but are humane and environmentally-friendly as well,” Elizabeth Magner, the MSPCA’s animal advocacy specialist, wrote in the group’s letter Wednesday to Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer and the Framingham City Council.

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“Body-gripping traps are inherently non-specific and inhumane, both for target and non-target animals,” the letter continued. “Animals caught in these devices can suffer for long periods before dying. Studies show that the conibear body-gripping trap, for example, can take up to eleven minutes to kill a beaver.”

Another issue is that trapping and killing beavers could ultimately backfire. The Massachusetts Audubon Society says that “destroying beavers just creates vacant territory for new beavers to move in.” And according to PETA, those not killed will then simply breed at accelerated rates.

“Survivors will keep breeding,” Bell said Wednesday. “Newcomers are inevitable so long as the area attracts them, leading to an endless killing cycle at the taxpayers’ expense.”

In their letter to Spicer, McArthur, and the City Council, PETA asserted that effective “long-term wildlife control requires targeting the environment (rather than the animal) by making it unappealing and/or inaccessible to unwanted species.” They endorsed the use of water flow devices, as well as methods aimed at deterring gnawing, such as spraying beaver repellent on trees, caging trunks with mesh or hardware cloth, or coating trees with latex paint.

“We respectfully ask that you confirm that lethal initiatives will be halted in favor of humane measures that are effective in the long term,” Kent Stein, a senior cruelty caseworker for PETA, wrote to Framingham officials Tuesday.

McArthur said Wednesday that the Conservation Commission expects to hear back from the city about long-term plans to deal with the city’s beaver problems, potentially including water flow devices. But there are currently no plans to reverse the city’s decision to cull the animals in the near term.

“I would hope that in the future other means can be proposed,” said the longtime conservationist.

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