By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Beaver Creek Park is earning its name, with beavers taking down large trees, building dams and flooding roads and campsites. This year the Hill County Park Board will be looking to a fresh face to help it out.
"They're a problem. They're everywhere," board chairman Steve Mariani said.
Trapping has gone from a one-man to a two-man to a three-man job. John Holmes has been trapping at the park since 1966, and Gene Coder since the 1980s. This year, 16-year-old Havre High School sophomore Matt Schnittgen - who did a short trial period last year - will have a full section of the park, and will trap for the full season. Schnittgen will split the bulk of the park with Holmes, and leave a section near the entrance for Coder.
Schnittgen said he does not know any Havre-area friends his age, besides his two brothers, who trap.
"I was really young (when I learned). Around first grade," he said.
Schnittgen and his brothers learned from their father, but Matt has been the only son to stick with it, participating in Jim and Fran Buell's three-day Youth Trappers Camp in the summer. The camp draws students from all over the nation.
"I like being out there. I get tired of school and sports," Schnittgen said.
"(Trapping) is not a money-making business. It's a privilege," he added.
Even though the trappers take a total of more than 200 pelts a year among them, and the pelts sell for $10 to $12 each, the revenue still doesn't cover the costs of the trapping license, gas and truck repairs, Schnittgen said.
Operating at a loss, Schnittgen is also aware that trapping for the park is a service, he said.
"There's a real beaver problem out there," he said. "There's going to be a great decrease in the number of beavers out there" after the trapping.
"If Matt does a good job, we've got a future for trapping for as long as he wants to trap," Mariani said at Wednesday's park board meeting. He closed the discussion on beaver trapping and said to Schnittgen, "Make us and your daddy proud."
The board also discussed a time frame during in which trapping will be allowed. The state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks now allows beaver trapping year-round, but the park limits its season to times when there are fewer visitors. The board authorized trapping to begin Oct. 1 and run until April 15, with exceptions whenever the park superintendent encounters a problem beaver.
"We're not trying to get rid of the beavers. By trapping them, we're just trying to keep them at bay. Trapping is an affective way to control them," park superintendent Chad Edgar said.
In some areas the damage caused by the beavers is devastating, Edgar said.
"(The increase is) probably related to the amount of water that's available. Runoff in the spring has been maintained in places there haven't been in the past. We had dry years until this last year," FWP wildlife biologist Al Rosgaard said. "(Beavers) are fairly fast in moving into areas that are new habitat, areas with more vegetation and water."
Rosgaard is concerned about whether the trees damaged by beavers will recover.
"In the normal course of things those trees do come back" but cottonwoods "require flooding and the dams prevent flooding," he said.
The beavers don't confine themselves to the park's borders. Leland Top Sky, fish and game director at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, reported beaver problems there, too.
"There is quite a bit of damage on the reservation side. We're making every attempt to try to capture a lot of the beavers that are making that damage," Top Sky said. "They are cutting trees down, blocking culverts and having the water wash out roadways. One road has been underwater a couple of times in the East Fork area, a road that goes to Warrick."
On the reservation, they prefer trapping and relocating the beavers, Top Sky said. "In our mountain areas we'd like to have some beaver ponds. In the problem areas, we do use kill traps," he added.
Top Sky is worried about the upcoming season.
"Right now we're just being overwhelmed with the beaver population," Top Sky said. "It takes a lot of man-hours. Hunting season is coming up and we'll have to split our time with that and patrolling."
Edgar noted: "Beavers are pretty amazing creatures, extremely productive builders."
But Schnittgen and the other trappers said they are confident that they will be able to control the beaver population in the park.