BRATTLEBORO — When I was walking on a trail at Sweet Pond with my grandmother and my sibling, I saw an otter just barely peeking its head over a rock. It was an incredible experience that I hope I will get to repeat - but I am worried I won't be able to.
Hi, my name is Elsa. I am 10 years old. I would like to talk to you about the river otters we have here in Vermont.
About 900 licensed people trap and kill furbearers every trapping season. Trapping season stretches all the way from Oct. 22 through March 31 which is a good part of the year. Because licenses are only $23, people can actually make money by trapping otters and selling their pelts.
Otters are very important to their ecosystems because they help to keep the population of primary consumers down so that there are plenty of producers. Without otters there would be way too many fish (such as rainbow trout), mussels, crayfish, frogs, turtles, and insects. That would make many things tip out of balance.
River otters are also very fun to have around. They are interesting, cute, and playful and you don't get to see them very often - an otter can close its ears and nose so water does not get in and stay underwater. They live in wetlands, swamps, streams, and large ponds. It would be a shame to lose them.
Traps not only kill otters but they hurt them and their ecosystems. If a trap does not immediately kill an otter, it often will die in an even more gruesome way.
If the trap is underwater, the otter will most likely drown, and if the trap is on land it will either starve or more likely be killed directly by a human. This may include strangling, bludgeoning, and drowning, which are all legal. There are no laws against placing traps in state parks, national wildlife refuges, and even some private land (with permission of the property owner).
Non-targeted wild animals are sometimes accidentally caught in traps as well as cats, dogs, and other pets. Imagine walking your dog on a public trail and having it get stuck in a body-gripping kill trap. You would have to watch it die - there's nothing you could do.
Otters are not the only important animal being trapped. If too many other wild creatures are trapped it could cause additional problems. Hunters are not required to record what they accidentally trap so we don't have much information about how many non-targeted species are caught.
Traps can also end up separating mothers and pups because during trapping season mothers are often out playing or hunting while the babies aren't old enough to leave their dens and burrows. If the mother gets killed, the pups probably won't survive because the dads don't take care of them until they are older and the pups rely on their mother's milk before they can see or swim.
Although bobcats and coyotes are both threats to pups in Vermont, humans are the species that otters have to worry about the most.
I would love to have your help protecting Vermont river otters from trapping, whether that means making licenses more expensive, making rules around trapping stricter, helping to inform more people, or creating a place where river otters can be safe in Vermont.
Please help the otters remain something we could see whether we are going on a walk at Sweet Pond or hanging out by the river.