Kearns and Sons RS Aesthetics

Trapping at Lee Metcalf Refuge

We recently received a call. After spending over three years as a trail volunteer for Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge in Stevensville, this volunteer quit as a result of finding a beaver trapped, crushed and drowned, intentionally from a
conibear. When she asked the staff what was going on they said these were planned trappings for night to kill beavers for the waters for ducks. The legal trapping of beaver ended in this district seven days before this beaver was trapped. A permit would be required from FWP but the furs and castors of these necessary keystone species would be permitted to be kept and sold.
What can we say of Montana, a dry arid state, with increasing temperatures and decreasing precipitation, with shrinking wetlands impacting rare and endangered species, reduced water resources impacting big game browse, agriculture, irrigation, fisheries and natural fire breaks, where perhaps the most critically necessary species able to create and rectify these dwindling resources is not permitted to live out its vital role in the ecosystem and instead of finding safe haven is purposefully trapped and killed at our wildlife refuge, contradictory to the design and vitality of the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge in the first place?
“Designated in 1964, the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge was created to provide habitats for migratory birds. The 2,800 acres of lush riparian and wetland habitats attract a variety of wildlife. About 250 species of birds, 37 species of mammals, and 17 species of reptiles and amphibians have been documented on the Refuge.”
To add insult to injury, to proclaim trapping beaver on the refuge was to benefit ducks?
Beaver help waterfowl by creating increased areas of water, and in northerly latitudes they thaw areas of open water, allowing an earlier nesting season.
In a study of Wyoming streams and rivers, watercourses with beaver had 75-fold more ducks than those without.
Trumpeter swans and Canada geese often depend on beaver lodges as nesting sites. Canada’s small trumpeter swan population was observed not to nest on large lakes, preferring instead to nest on the smaller lakes and ponds associated with beaver activity. Wikipedia North American Beaver
Beaver may benefit the birds frequenting their ponds in several additional ways. Removal of some pond side trees by beavers would increase the density and height of the grass-forb-shrub layer, which enhances waterfowl nesting
cover adjacent to ponds. Both forest gaps where trees had been felled by beaver and a “gradual edge” described as a complex transition from pond to forest with intermixed grasses, forbs, saplings, and shrubs are strongly associated with greater migratory bird species richness and abundance.
Coppicing of waterside willows and cottonwoods by beavers leads to dense shoot production which provides important cover for birds and the insects they feed on. Widening of the riparian terrace alongside streams is associated with beaver dams and has been shown to increase riparian bird abundance and diversity, an impact that may be especially important in semi-arid climates. Wikipedia North American Beaver
As trees are drowned by rising beaver impoundments they become ideal nesting sites for woodpeckers, who carve cavities that attract many other bird species including flycatchers,tree swallows, tits, wood ducks, goldeneyes, mergansers, owls and American kestrels. Piscivores, including herons, grebes, cormorants, American bitterns, great egret, snowy egret, mergansers and belted kingfishers, utilize beaver ponds for fishing. Hooded mergansers, green heron, great blue heron and belted kingfisher occurred more frequently in New York wetlands where beaver were active than at sites with no beaver activity. Wikipedia North American Beaver
According to FWP, in the last six recorded years, almost 40,000 beaver have been reported trapped and killed in Montana. Beaver can be trapped in unlimited numbers throughout much of the year and do not need to be reported.
Beavers are a keystone species – that is, their presence and activities are so important to an ecosystem that their removal “leads to a loss of habitat for other species and a breakdown of ecological integrity.” – Dave Foreman, Rewilding North America, 2004
Our ballot initiative for Trap Free Montana Public Lands would protect species such as beaver from trapping on our refuges and Montana public lands, with limited exceptions. Our initiative promotes respectful coexistence and the use of tree wraps, beaver deceivers, and if relocation is necessary the use of cage traps.
KC York, Chairman
Trap Free Montana Public Lands

2 Responses to Trapping at Lee Metcalf Refuge
  1. Trap Free Montana Public Lands
    May 11, 2014 | 4:02 am

    Aquifers were drained along mountain creeks because of the loss of beaver dams in the 1830s, during the fur trade. Spring runoff, which now flows out of state, would be partially kept in the mountains and released slowly, providing late summer, cooler, stream flows and the restoration of thousands of springs if public lands were trap free in Montana. The value of this water is high. Before the fur trade began, the 60,000 miles of mountain creeks in Montana supported up to ten beaver dams per mile. Studies by the Lands Council in Eastern Washington measured 17.5 acre feet of water in the aquifers around an average beaver pond. Along the 60,000 miles of mountain drainages in western Montana the pre-trapping water storage was in the millions of acre feet. This could be restored, with out cost, simply by limiting trapping on public lands, only 1/3 of Montana. At the same time, I-169 permits trapping for public health and safety and if nonlethal measures such as tree wrapping, beaver deceivers, barriers are ineffective at addressing a conflict or nuisance animal, trapping is permitted. Best to keep things in perspective to the public can make an educated decision.

  2. Harold Johnson
    May 7, 2014 | 9:48 pm

    I think KC is off base on this thing.

    Beavers can be a problem in all waterways when they dam culverts and flood roads. Generally, they are left alone unless they are causing damage. As an example, when you are trying to run water into certain areas for habitat for migratory birds, beavers can cause a lot of headaches. They love to back up water in the wrong places (right for the beavers, wrong for management) They can cause considerable damage to irrigation structures, roads, and even houses in some areas. We have more than ample beavers in this state. KC is apparently trying to convince people that beavers are not common in Montana, which is a false statement. Just how many beavers are in this state if 6,000 are trapped each year? 6,000 is a drop in the bucket. Their are ate least 4,222 miles of streams in this state alone. The majority of the beavers caught are problem animals removed for free by Montana trappers. Beavers are rodents, and reproduce like rodents. It takes little time for beavers to overpopulate an area and boy to they wack trees in a hurry!

    To clarify KCs antitrap agenda, take a look at Massachusetts trapping ban enacted in 1996. By the year 2000, the beaver population had grown from 24,000 to over 70,000 in that state alone. The state was getting so many beaver complaints that the wildlife management people could not keep up, even after hiring extra people to try to help. The sad part of the story is that many residents gave up on the state and took matters into their own hands, shooting and poisoning beavers that were flooding roads and wrecking septic systems. We have a regulated trapping season in Montana that ensures beavers and people have a place to live. There are times when beavers need to be removed from areas. I would much rather see a local trapper do it than have to use tax dollars to pay for a government employee. There is also a problem with cage trapping beavers….what to do with them after they are removed. Do you want beavers in your irrigation ditch? Another topic for another day.

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