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Despite residents’ plea, Belleville council puts animal-trap ban on hold

Opponents of traps at city hall

Stanley Park residents Doug and Carolyn Knutson (left) and Chris and Susan Finkle worked together over the summer to rescue a beaver that was drowning in a trap. They have made it their mission to ban leghold and body-gripping traps in the city of Belleville. Photo by Syerra Turry, QNet News

By Syerra Turry [1]

BELLEVILLE – Despite hearing a first-hand account of suffering imposed on a beaver by a drowning trap [2], city council turned down a motion for an immediate ban on such traps.

Doug Knutson (left) and Chris Finkle said nightly gatherings by neighbours around the culvert in Stanley Park were common throughout the summer as they worked toward getting inhumane trapping methods banned in Belleville. Photo by Syerra Turry, QNet News

Council’s action followed complaints of beavers being inhumanely trapped at Bell Creek Marsh in the Stanley Park area. Doug Knutson, a resident of the area who spoke at Monday’s council meeting, describes the culvert in the marsh as “beaver nirvana.”

The city puts the traps in to prevent flooding and property damage due to the beavers’ activity.

The drowning traps work by luring a beaver to a break in its dam, where it steps into the trap in shallow water, then bolts to deep water, he explained to QNet News. The trap is intended to hold the beaver underwater, where it takes up to 15 minutes to die because beavers can hold their breath for so long.

Knutson and his wife, Carolyn, along with their neighbours Chris and Susan Finkle, showed council a video of their experience rescuing a drowning beaver that had been caught in a trap on July 12.

“What we witnessed was truly horrifying,” Doug Knutson said. The traps “cause terrible prolonged suffering and because they are indiscriminately placed, it poses a risk to people, pets and other wildlife.”

He described borrowing his neighbours’ kayak to rescue the beaver, his wife being put on hold by 911 when she called about the suffering animal, and how they were subsequently investigated by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources [3] for interfering with the trap and could have been charged.

“Having witnessed this first-hand, and being involved in the rescue, this became our project this summer, and we’ve become very invested in the welfare of these beavers,” he told QNet News.

In response to the presentation by Doug Knutson and Chris Finkle, most of the the councillors expressed both support for the proposed ban on such traps and concern about animal welfare and public safety.

“I am embarrassed as a city councillor (that) I wasn’t aware that this practice was going on,” said Coun. Mitch Panciuk. If he had been aware, he said, he would have taken a position against the traps sooner.

Coun. Kelly McCaw says she’s concerned about pets and children getting caught in leghold and body-gripping traps. Photo by Syerra Turry, QNet News

Coun. Kelly McCaw said: “If these traps have the ability to snag, trap and snare your family pets, consider what they’ll do to a child.” There are safe and humane methods to control beavers, she added.

One method is a beaver baffler [4], which Doug Knutson explained is a device that blocks a beaver from the opening of a culvert while still allowing water flow. One such device has been installed on Haig Road.

The councillors discussed the possibility of a citywide ban on the traps, but Coun. Jackie Denyes, who represents rural Ward 2 (Thurlow), argued that a ban would be less practical in rural areas.

A motion by McCaw for a ban in Ward 1 (Belleville) was defeated in a 5-3 vote. Councillors then agreed to ask city staff to write a report outlining policy and procedures for the use of animal traps within the city. This report will include alternative options to these traps, suggest what the city can do in the urban area of Ward 1 and the rural area of Ward 2, and explain the role of the Ministry of Natural Resources in the issue, because it falls within the ministry’s jurisdiction.

An online petition [5] for the city to ban inhumane trapping methods in the Stanley Park area has gained over 50,000 signatures.

“If Belleville proactively engages in strategies to allow nature and people to peacefully coexist, we could be a shining example to other municipalities across Canada, ” Doug Knutson said.

The staff report will be presented at the Oct. 9 city council meeting.