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'Death sentence': Aurora, Newmarket residents work to rid towns of 'inhumane' conibear traps

Towns have used traps to deal with 'nuisance beavers' causing flooding and damage
Jan. 20, 2021
Lisa Queen

What started out as a family stroll over the holidays has grown into a campaign to stop the towns of Aurora and Newmarket using “inhumane” conibear traps to kill “nuisance beavers.”

On Dec. 22, Elaine Evans walked with her parents, her boyfriend, Patrick Collings, and his dog, Molly, northeast of Bayview Avenue and St. John’s Sideroad in Aurora just south of the Newmarket border.

The border Collie explored the shoreline of a pond.

“I noticed these stakes or sticks poking out right where she was sniffing around and then I realized it was a trap, it was this big wire trap thing,” Evans said.

“She was just about to nose into it. It was sticking out of the water. I grabbed her and went home. I felt so rattled by that, that it was so close to where people walk.”

Evans warned others through the Aurora -- Our Town Facebook page, operated by Mayor Tom Mrakas.

Many residents began commenting on social media.

“The outpouring of support was incredible,” with most people saying the use of the trap was disturbing, Evans said.

She was alarmed to learn the conibear trap was laid by the town to get rid of beavers that build dams causing flooding and damage.

Conibear traps are condemned by animal welfare advocates such as the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies and the Animal Alliance of Canada, which say they cause prolonged and agonizing death, are ineffective in the long run and often kill unintended targets such as family dogs.

There are many humane ways to address concerns with beavers, they say.

Evans agrees.

“They’re super ineffective, super cruel. They can take 20 minutes of painful death for the animal trapped in it to actually die because they are held under water and they’re kind of crushed first,” she said.

“I stopped sleeping at night when I found out more about it.”

In early January, Aurora’s parks and fleet manager, Sara Tienkamp, said the town’s program to trap nuisance beavers is common practice among North American municipalities.

“Trapping is a last resort when dealing with beavers. Our preference is always for prevention, tolerance and coexistence,” she said, adding the town uses other methods such as wrapping trees with wire and planting trees beavers don’t touch.

“However, it would be irresponsible for us to allow beaver activity to continue where public safety was at risk or where the beaver would damage public infrastructure e.g. storm water management pond outlets.”

Trapping is done with licensed trappers and in accordance with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, Tienkamp said.

Evans remained sickened.

“Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s morally right,” she said.

She launched an online petition, which gathered 2,000 signatures within a couple of days.

The town has now suspended trapping while it consults with the ministry, Eliza Bennett, acting manager of corporate communications, said.

“Our preference is always to have peaceful coexistence with local wildlife and we are hopeful that we can find a way to protect residents from flooding and enhance our handling of wildlife at the same time,” she said.

Evans’ campaign inspired Newmarket resident Shoshana Friedman to put pressure on her local politicians.

“I can’t think of a more horrible way to die,” she said of the traps.

Newmarket has used the traps as recently as last year “as a last resort” but Deputy Mayor Tom Vegh is considering a bylaw banning them.

“They are mammals just doing what they do naturally. I don’t think that should be a death sentence,” he said, adding society is intruding on the habitats of wildlife.

Inhumane traps must be banned, Friedman said.

“I really do think the majority of the population in Newmarket and Aurora do not want to see animals die for no reason,” she said.