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Park Board declines grant for non-lethal beaver trapping alternatives


Havre Daily News/Jack Lambert

A beaver swims across a pond near Havre shortly after sunset in April. The Hill County Park Board voted 5-3 not to apply for a grant that would allow demonstration of non-lethal methods to deal with beaver in Beaver Creek Park, although they did not rule out applying for the grant in the future.

The Hill County Park Board continued its discussion about non-lethal alternatives to beaver trapping in Beaver Creek Park and voted during their monthly meeting, which was held virtually May 4, to decline to apply for a grant that would have provided a demonstration of these devices.

The virtual meeting had technical difficulties, with the audio quality inconsistent, and many of the people on the call did not identify themselves.

Torrey Ritter, a non-game biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks provided his opinion on the grant and non-lethal alternatives in general.

"I've been working on beavers since I was nine," Ritter said.

He said the grant, being offered by the Elinor Patterson Baker Trust, would provide the funds for an evaluation and demonstration of non-lethal devices like Beaver Deceivers and other flow devices that aim to mitigate damage done by beavers without killing them.

Dave Pauli, a senior advisor with the Humane Society of the United States, and Ritter said this grant is not an offer of a permanent solution to the parks beaver problem, but to show that non-lethal devices are a viable option to be considered.

"Wherever you have the problem, we want to try to show that these alternatives might work," Pauli said.

He said the application would need to be submitted by May 20, but that it is a fairly simple one.

Pauli said grants like this are not one-time deals, but he expressed concern that the pandemic may complicate matters if the board decided to wait for the next cycle of grants.

"It's not to say that if we didn't do it in this cycle, that we couldn't do it in another cycle, but the pandemic and the stock market, every nonprofit is re-evaluating what they do, so there is just no guarantee," he said.

Ritter said he's been involved in installing these non-lethal alternatives before, and that FWP has used similar devices though not extensively.

"It's not wide-spread, but it has been done," he said.

Ritter said he would be willing to take a look at the park and provide advice for how these non-lethal devices could work.

Lou Hagener, who has been working with people on monitoring different aspects of the park, said the board should consider giving Ritter and other experts time to evaluate the park and make recommendations, which he said is part of the grant's purpose.

"The short of it is we need the council of people like Torrey and Skip (Lisle), and part of this grant was being getting people like them up hear and put on a workshop for us and show us, and train us," he said.

Skip Lisle, who invented the Beaver Deceiver and is president of Beaver Deceiver International, said the devices he makes have very little maintenance cost if properly installed, and lamented the mixed reputation devices like these have, which he said, is a result of inferior designs from other companies.

"My devices are very high quality," Lisle said.

Hill County Commissioner Mark Peterson asked if these devices tend to be placed near campgrounds and other high-population areas.

Ritter said in his experience devices do tend to be placed in high-population areas, but he said that is anecdotal.

After some discussion Peterson made a motion to decline the grant until more information could be provided about possible locations for devices.

"Right now, we are asking for a grant, and we don't even know what we're going to do with it," he said.

Peterson, and others on the board, said a decision needed to be made, and that this was no longer an issue that could be tabled because of the damage being done to the park by the rising beaver population.

Cabin owner Rose Cloninger said she's seen the damage recently.

"Just last weekend we drove around through the park, and I've never seen so much damage from beavers out there," she said.

Peterson asked whether Ritter, Pauli or Lisle really had an idea of what the situation in the park was.

"How many of you have visited our park and understand the dynamic that we're up against?" he asked, "... I think a number of you have good ideas and good intentions, but Beaver Creek Park is a lot different than a lot of other areas that you're working with beaver in, and I think you need to understand that and come see it before you make a very serious analysis of what needs to be done."

Pauli said he can't claim to understand the dynamic of the park from his limited experience in the place, but that he has seen similar places where non-lethal alternatives have worked.

"It seems like the issue of the overall beaver population is a very long-term complex thing, and I certainly understand the question, but it seems like that's getting away from what the grant is, which is just to show that there are other techniques that can be used to deal with specific problems," said a person who did not identify themself.

Members of the board were asked if trapping had been effective at reducing damage by beavers in the past.

"It did for 50 or 60 years," said an unidentified member of the board.

They said the last two years has seen an explosion in the beaver population and that immediate action must be taken.

"We can do something long-term, but we can't do nothing," they said.

One of those invited to the meeting said the non-violent devices were not incompatible with trapping, and that the board can do both at the same time if needed.

"It's far more effective as a long-term remedy to control damming behavior," they said.

Members of the board told those invited that the motion proposed by Peterson was not a permanent position that they are taking on non-lethal alternatives, only that they will not take this particular grant.

"We're not deciding on Beaver Deceivers, we are deciding on beaver deceivers at this time," one member said.

Local resident Cathy Jamruzska spoke in favor of the grant, which she said seems like a "no strings attached" option to explore new possibilities.

"I cannot see why you would even pass up the opportunity to get help," she said.

After discussion, Peterson's motion was seconded and passed 5-3.

Aubrey Williams gave an update on the status of the park's upgraded website, which may be operational by mid-May.

She said the pandemic had slowed work on the website down in the past months.

The plans for putting up an information kiosk that was discussed in the boards last meeting have been sent to the Financial Planning Committee, but they have yet to make a final decision.

The board also discussed how Gov. Steve Bullock's phased re-opening plan will affect the park.

An unidentified member of the board said during Phase One, outdoor recreation including camping will continue to be allowed assuming social distancing can be maintained, but gatherings of 10 or more people is still prohibited.

They said during Phase Two, gatherings can go up to 50, but social distancing will still be required.

At Phase Three, group size limits are lifted, and social distancing will still be encouraged. Interstate travel will also be allowed again without requiring a 14-day quarantine and recreational facilities like playgrounds, and the visitor's center will be able to fully open.

During the meeting concerns were raised about how the pandemic would affect the park's revenue in the long-run.

An unidentified member of the board said the budget for next year will be accordingly adjusted.

"The budget is pretty dire for the next year," they said.

Beaver Creek Park Superintendent Chad Edgar said park usage has been high in the last few months partially because of the nice weather, but also because it provides activities for people dealing with the pandemic.

"It's been nice being out there and seeing people using our park," he said.


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