Beaver trapping in the park
Voters may decide on trapping’s future, both sides debate merits
October 14, 2013
Two groups are going head to head on a ballot initiative that would ban private trapping on public land in Montana.
A representative of one group has told the Hill County Park Board that the proposal to stop trapping could have serious repercussions on Beaver Creek Park.
“The reason I’m coming here is to let the … park board know that something is coming down the pike, and it’s going to affect Beaver Creek Park,” said Fran Buell of Gildford. She told the park board she has trapped since she was 8.
The issue is proposed ballot Initiative No. 167, the Montana Trap-Free Public Lands initiative, which its supporters are trying to get on the ballot in the November 2014 election.
The initiative would ban trapping on public land except by public employees, and would ban the sale of fur gained by trapping, or any commercial use of any animal or bird trapped on public land.
Hill County Park Board member Renelle Braaten, an opponent of trapping, said in an interview last week she was glad Buell spoke about the initiative.
“I was glad she brought that to my attention to make sure I vote yes on that,” Braaten said.
Beaver Creek Park Superintendent Chad Edgar said in an interview that trapping is the most efficient way to strike a balance between managing the beaver population and keeping them in the park.
“I think if it were left to nature, we’d be a big beaver dam out here,” he said. “The roads would be flooded, campgrounds would be flooded. It’s important to keep them in check.
“At the same time, we do not want to eliminate the beaver from Beaver Creek Park, and that is important in my eyes,” Edgar added. “I mean, our namesake is the beaver.”
The initiative was filed with the Montana Secretary of State by the president of Missoula-based Footloose Montana, Timothy Provow. A similar initiative filed by Provow for the 2010 election failed to gain enough signatures to make it on the ballot.
Another group, Montanans for Effective Wildlife Management, is opposing the initiative.
On its website, Footloose Montana says trapping benefits a tiny percentage of Montanans while creating problems for others.
“Hundreds of pets, endangered species and other non-target animals are injured or killed in traps every year,” the website says. “Trapping is an outdated hobby that benefits few but endangers those of us who like to enjoy public lands with our children and companion animals. In a nutshell, trapping is a public safety threat, further endangers already struggling wildlife species such as wolverine, swift fox, fisher, marten and otter, and it presents a case of animal cruelty.”
But the initiative’s opponent paints a different picture on its webpage, hosted by Montana Trappers Association.
“Trapping is an important tool for biologists, ranchers, farmers, home owners and pest control professionals,” the website says. “It enables wildlife managers to control problematic predator and pest populations that can attack pets, spread diseases among human and wildlife, damage property, impact other wildlife populations and kill livestock.”
When Buell spoke to the park board, she echoed a complaint listed on the website: the initiative is too broad, and would prevent trapping on all land ranging from Bureau of Land Management land to parks, from university property to school football fields where officials are trying to control gophers.
“They can put out poison and poison the kids who play out there, but they can’t put out traps,” Buell said.
She said the initiative would impact agriculture producers who lease the use of public land as well. Buell said that she doubts the public employees who manage the land would have the ability to trap predators or pests, while the people who lease the land now hire private trappers to try to manage the wildlife.
Braaten said in the interview that she opposes trapping, period.
“I think it’s very very inhumane, not necessary,” she said. “I don’t believe in trapping anywhere.”
Braaten said that, on Beaver Creek Park, she is not convinced that the beavers cause significant damage on the park, so trapping is not justified.
“When you have two sides to everything, of course each side is going to try to find any tiny little thing to help their cause … ,” she said. “The animals were here first, and we learned to live with them.”
Edgar said in the interview that he has seen the damage.
Beavers have damaged “very large, precious cottonwood trees” in campgrounds that provide shade and shelter for campers, and also create a hazard, Edgar said. Gnawing halfway through a tree creates the potential for the tree to fall or be blown over, damaging vehicles or injuring park patrons, he said.
The damage also has been to cabin sites, with beaver-chewed trees falling on cabins, he said. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife biologist Scott Hemmer said this morning that trapping is an effective tool in managing wildlife, both in controlling population and providing biological data about the wildlife in an area.
While there are other ways to control populations and to prevent damage, trapping is one of the most efficient ways to prevent damage to certain area, he said.
That could range from campsites to protecting culverts that are blocked by beavers — one of the problems Buell listed at her family’s campsite at Beaver Creek.
While Fish, Wildlife and Parks is prohibited by state law from supporting or opposing ballot initiatives, department spokesman Ron Aashiem said FWP is on record as supporting trapping as a needed management tool and as a recreational and economic activity.
While FWP cannot go on record supporting or opposing ballot initiatives, others have done so, including the Montana Wool Growers Association submitting comments to the Montana Attorney General’s office this year in opposition to the proposal.
That association and many others, including the Montana Cattlemen’s Association, Montana Stockgrowers Association, Montana Farm Bureau Federation and numerous sports organizations opposed the 2010 initiative.
Braaten said she wants all trapping to stop to end the suffering of animals. While that includes wild and domestic animals caught incidentally in traps intended for other species — Footloose Montana says 55 dogs were reported caught in traps in Montana in the last season — she opposes all trapping.
“It gets some house pets and animals. That happens all the time, you see it all the time, But I don’t want the wild animals to be tortured and left there,” Braaten said. “If research shows that something is definitely a problem, for a good reason, then shoot them. I really don’t believe in that, either, but I would rather that than trapping.”