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South Dakota battles problems with beavers

June 18, 2018

MITCHELL, S.D. (AP) — In the spring, Randy Becker’s workload gets busy.

Busy as a beaver, you might say.

Becker is wildlife damage specialist for the South Dakota Game Fish & Parks Department. His job, otherwise known as “state trapper,” involves ridding nuisance animals like coyotes and beavers for South Dakota landowners.

Yes, beavers — those little semi-aquatic rodents that can cause “a world of headaches” — are a big problem here.

“They’re an amazing animal, but they get themselves in a lot of trouble,” said Becker, who’s worked for GF&P for just shy of a decade.

In the past five years, GF&P’s Animal Damage Control program has received an average of 370 beaver calls annually statewide, The Daily Republic reported. The total funding spent removing beavers has climbed, too, and reached a peak in 2017 of $213,800. Since 2013, GF&P has spent nearly $1 million on removing beavers in South Dakota.

Due to a wet spring and fewer fur trappers in the market, requests for assistance and total dollars spent will likely climb again, officials said.

GF&P Wildlife Damage Program Administrator Keith Fisk said coyote assistance calls top the workload for his staff, but, somewhat surprising to many people, beaver complaints come in second.

“Beaver problems are not as out in the open as maybe some of the other things we deal with,” Fisk said. “But nonetheless, it’s a very important component to one of our programs.”

During a recent morning, Becker hopped in his pickup and trekked to northern Davison County to check if any of his beaver traps captured a critter.

No luck.

He had already taken three beavers from Matt Hayes’ property a few miles southeast of Letcher. Because of the abundance of precipitation in the past month, a stock dam was overflowing onto a gravel road when a family of beavers plugged up a culvert.

Evidence of beavers was everywhere nearby.

Sixty-foot cottonwood trees were knocked down, munched over in that arrow-point fashion that beavers do. They create dams and knock over trees, Becker said, to create better habitat for themselves.

“I don’t think most people give beavers a second thought until they go into their backyard and see $150 to $200 trees chewed up,” said Becker, whose office is based in Mitchell. “Then they’re quick to find out who they need to get ahold of to get rid of these things.”

In the spring, beaver and coyote assistance calls are split pretty evenly for Becker, he said. Beavers are a problem everywhere in South Dakota, but there are more issues in the southeastern part of the state.

Hayes has called GF&P about the beaver-infested property for each of the past three years.

It’s a regular occurrence to see these specific culverts get clogged with mud and branches each spring, he said. When that happened this year, the water went over the road and started causing erosion. Then, Becker came out and quickly removed three beavers.

“Unless you live close to water, you probably don’t understand how they can cause havoc,” said the 34-year-old Hayes.

Trapping and using snares are effective methods, but Becker thought he may need to do some night-vision hunting to finish off the last of the troublemakers.

And who cleans up the messes, such as the dams and clogged culverts?

Davison County Highway Superintendent Rusty Weinberg said his department responds to about three to five jobs each spring where beavers were active.

“Yeah, they’re a little nuisance,” he said.

Fewer people are interested in trapping now-a-days, Becker said.

It just doesn’t pay.

“Beaver trapping is hard work and skinning them is not easy, either,” Becker said. “To convince someone to go out and invest time, money, gas and equipment to go out and trap beavers that bring $5 to $7 a pelt, that just doesn’t happen anymore.”

They grow up to 70 pounds, and the average beaver Becker catches is around 35 to 40 pounds. In South Dakota, at least, man is the animal’s biggest predator. The population of trappers nationwide is aging out, too.

There are 8,880 members in the National Trappers Association, an organization based in Indiana whose president, Chris McAllister, is from Dallas, South Dakota. The organization’s membership is up about 130 from five years ago but down about 1,000 members in the past decade.

While beaver pelts can be used for making cowboy hats or work nicely as coyote bait for GF&P, it’s the beaver castor that’s most valuable. The castor is a secretion they use to mark their territories. It’s an ingredient in high-end perfumes and also used as a lure for beaver trapping.

When setting a trap, Becker places beaver castor on a stick to pique the interest of nearby beavers.

Becker has caught beavers at golf courses, rural fields, and more specifically Dry Run Creek near the Highway 37 bypass, south of West Third Avenue, in Mitchell.

“Any place you have a watershed, you potentially may have beaver problems,” Becker said.

Shortly after leaving Hayes’ property, Becker drove to northeastern Mitchell, where the Firesteel Creek flows along an alfalfa field, to check on a report of beaver damage.

He set a trap, placed castor nearby and, the next morning, found the process worked as it should. Becker saved the day.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said.


Information from: The Daily Republic, http://www.mitchellrepublic.com

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