Outlaw beavers' days may be numbered

Posted: Sunday, December 22, 2002

The U.S. Forest Service says it will kill a colony of beavers in the Dredge Lakes area this winter to preserve fish runs and reduce flooding on trails.

But some Juneau residents wish the agency either would leave the beavers alone, or at least trap them alive and move them.

"It's fun to watch some of the work they're doing even if it's going to flood the trail you're walking on," neighborhood resident Betty Seguin said.

The Forest Service last week released its plan to manage beavers in the area just north of Back Loop Road, west of Glacier Spur Road and east of the Mendenhall River. The popular fishing and hiking site is spotted with dredged and natural ponds and lined with trails.

But the area also is dotted with beaver dams that trap fish in ponds and flood trails and fish-spawning habitat.

"They're popular freshwater lakes on the Juneau road system," said Brian Glynn, area sportfish management biologist for the state Department of Fish and Game.

"They're popular amongst trout fishermen and coho and Dolly Varden fishermen."

The Forest Service has spent a few hundred hours a year in recent years punching holes in the beaver architecture and unclogging culverts. Now it's decided on an ongoing management plan to remove the toothy architects in the Holding Pond; Moose, Dredge, Moraine and Glacier lakes; and on Steep Creek next to the road to the Mendenhall Glacier.

"If a beaver moves into that area and does things that impact the trails and the fisheries management of that area, the beavers will be removed," said fish and wildlife biologist Don Martin.

Beavers will be allowed to remain in most of the lakes in the recreation area, and the agency will reroute some trails to avoid flooded areas, he added.

Martin said there was one active beaver colony, with two to eight animals, in the removal area. Young beavers live with their parents for a few years. Beavers build dams to create deep ponds, which they like in winter, and to create habitat for willow, their favorite food.

The beavers will be caught with body-hold traps, which kill them quickly, Martin said. The traps will be set under ice so pets and people won't stumble upon them.

The Forest Service will need permits from state Fish and Game because trapping is prohibited in the area, and will seek city approval because the city prohibits trapping within a half-mile of public roads.

Resident Margaret Walmer said the Forest Service should leave the beavers alone.

"I just don't like meddling in nature. I really do think we should let nature take its course and not interfere," she said. "They shouldn't have to die because somebody's trail got in the way or somebody's fish got in the way."

Resident Seguin said trapping beavers won't remove the problem because other beavers will move into the area. And she'd rather see live-trapping if any trapping takes place.

Martin of the Forest Service said it would be time-consuming and difficult to trap up to eight beavers alive, and they would cause the same sort of problems anywhere they were moved to.

Fish and Game wildlife biologist Neil Barten said live-trapping the beavers would entail placing large clamshell-like traps on the ground and hope the beavers walk into them and children and pets don't.

The beavers would have to be relocated to a water system, and in Juneau those are near roads.

"Here, your options are so limited. Anyplace you put them along the road system you're going to end up trapping them because they cause problems," Barten said.

Martin said the agency would consider live-trapping in the future as one or two beavers move into the removal zone.

Steve Peterson, a retired state wildlife biologist, said if the Forest Service wants to meet the objective of protecting trails and fisheries, "you're going to have to kill some beavers."

Beavers "are very abundant," he said. "It isn't like we're dealing with a rare and endangered species."

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.

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