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Anti-beaver-trapping billboard draws eyes, as controversy continues


Last updated 5/14/2021 at 11:30am

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

A billboard put up on U.S. Highway 2 East in Havre by Trap Free Montana calls on people to protect beaver.

As local conflict over the future of beaver population management in Beaver Creek Park continues, a billboard sponsored by Trap Free Montana Public Lands has been set up on U.S. Highway 2 at the east end of town.

The Hill County Park Board's Rules and Regulations Committee has been holding a series of meetings meant to gauge the public's opinion on the long-controversial issue of beaver trapping, which some argue is the only efficient way of controlling beaver populations in Beaver Creek Park.

Others have argued that lethal trapping is inhumane and alternatives exist, though many question their efficacy or cost efficiency.

Trap Free Montana Board President K.C. York said her organization promotes non-lethal alternatives to animal trapping, responsible stewardship of land and respectful coexistence with wildlife.

York said she was told about the ongoing issue in Beaver Creek Park by Renelle Braaten, a frequent attendee of the meetings, former member of the Beaver Creek Park Board and advocate for non-lethal alternatives to trapping.

Braaten said she's donated to the organization in the past and she's glad to see the sign up, though she said she didn't know they were planning to put up a billboard.

"I think the community needs some education about different options than trapping," she said.

However, she said, based on the meetings she's not very hopeful that there will be substantial changes to Beaver Creek Park's trapping situation.

Trap Free Montana has put up signs across the state regarding trapping in general, but this is the first beaver-related billboard, which York said she hopes will be the first of many around the state.

However, not everyone was happy to see this sign go up.

"It sucks," said Fran Buell a member of the Montana Trappers Association and a cabin owner on Beaver Creek Park.

Buell said she thinks Trap Free Montana, which began as a ballot initiative committee set up by Footloose Montana, is attempting to influence the discussion in Havre and manipulate people who are not informed about what's going on in the park.

Buell said she has seen people from Footloose Montana at meetings of the Park Board as well as at the Montana Legislature and characterized the organizations as intensely hostile not just to trapping, but to trappers.

"They're not nice people," she said.

Buell said a recent Montana Trappers Association event in Dillon was ended prematurely due to a bomb threat by someone who was anti-trapping.

Footloose Montana said in a Facebook post that the call did not come from anyone associated with them.

"Who made the phone call? No one we know," the post said, "... Trappers will do anything for attention."

Buell said she's also received personal threats from anti-trappers, including a letter with blood on it.

Buell said the organization has supported efforts to further regulate or eliminate trapping and their agenda is hurtful.

"They try to influence people who don't know what is going on," she said. "... If you dig down into what they're really after, it's not a pretty picture."

"If the community gets behind them, we won't have a Beaver Creek Park as we know it," she added.

Buell said trapping, when done correctly, is safe and humane, and organizations like the Montana Trappers Association teaches trappers how to do their jobs ethically.

She said traps are designed to catch only one kind of animal and catching non-target animals is rare, especially when they are set underwater, which those on Beaver Creek Park are.

She said traps used on the park include snares that lock around a beaver's neck, foothold traps that can be released, and body grip traps.

Body grip traps, also known as conibear traps, are designed to close around the animal's body, breaking their neck and strangling them as quickly as possible, and ensuring no escape.

Buell said these traps are humane when used correctly, but organizations like Trap Free Montana don't want to listen to her.

York said body grip traps can crush the animals and depending on how the trap is entered can inflict a great amount of pain on the animals, and her organization does not consider them humane.

She said her organization does oppose trapping on moral grounds, but there are also practical reasons to examine alternatives like beaver deceivers.

Beaver deceivers, pond levelers and other non-lethal devices designed to mitigate damage from beaver have been a subject of discussion at previous meetings, and Buell said her personal experience with them has been entirely negative.

She said she made her own beaver deceiver, similar to one used by the Montana Beaver Working Group, as well as a pond leveler to deal with a beaver on her own property with no success, and the animal has since caused a great deal of damage to her property and the surrounding area including flooding her outhouse and cutting down trees.

"So when I see this sign that says 'protect beaver' and I come to my mountain retreat and I see what this beaver does the protection part just kinda flies out of my head," she said.

However, York said. beaver deceivers and devices like them need to be installed by experts who have experience with the devices and she's skeptical of any claim made that the devices don't work when it's not coming from an experienced user of them.

Unfortunately, she said, the park board declined a grant from the Elinor Patterson Baker Trust that would have paid for a demonstration of these non-lethal alternatives and their efficacy last year, and she thinks they should have at least explored the possibilities.

York said it's hard to know how her position would change if it was determined that non-lethal alternatives like beaver deceivers would not work on the park.

She said it would depend on who made the determination, if there were any natural predators in the area, and information like that.

She said if none of the alternatives were viable she would still prefer relocation to lethal trapping.

York said she sees trapping as creating a vicious cycle as the removal of beaver from an area creates a vacuum that will inevitably be filled in short order, requiring even more trapping.

Trapping in the past has been used to reduce the number of beaver but has not in the last century removed all beaver from the park. Hill County Commissioner Mark Peterson said at a recent meeting of the Hill County Park Board Rules and Regulation Committee that, whatever method is used, the park board is not looking to eliminate beaver.

York said non-lethal methods, if used correctly, can be a more long-term solution.

"It's past time to look at other methods," she said.

She said she's been keeping up with the situation in Beaver Creek as best she can from afar and that she had originally planned to come up to talk to people directly, but the pandemic made it very difficult to arrange anything like that until recently.

She said she wants to engage with people in the area and find a solution that doesn't involve killing beaver, but also manages their effect on the park.

"How can we make this a win-win?" she said.

Attendees to the recent meetings regarding beaver management have cited concerns about damage to their property and campgrounds as the reason that the beaver population needs to be significantly reduced.

Buell said she's been trapping since she was 8 years old and even back in 1957 she and her father took 88 beaver out of an area over a few months without eliminating all the beaver.

Others have cited concerns about the changing water ways affect on fish populations, tree cutting, and changing waterways cause by damming.

While many attendees have advocated for non-lethal methods, the majority who spoke at the last meeting said they think the population is out of control and needs to be reduced via trapping.

York said people tend to think of the animals only in the context of cutting down trees and flooding waterways, but the animals have significant benefits to the environment that should also be acknowledged.

She said the animals create extremely biologically productive wetlands that increase bio-diversity and support a massive number of other species, many of them endangered, including waterfowl that need wetlands to survive.

She said their dams can also protect downstream spawning areas for fish and prevent sedimentation as well as decrease rapid runoff from heavy rain and snowmelt.

York said if managed properly even their tree cutting can create firebreaks.

She said people tend to change their minds when they learn more about beaver and their environmental significance.

"We find that once people understand they care and once they care," she said.

Buell said beaver may have beneficial effects in certain places, but Beaver Creek Park isn't one of them.


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