By Michael Howell
Tom Reed, Manager of the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, has had to do a lot of explaining since one of the refuge volunteers, Kimi Smith, made public her experience discovering a dead beaver in a conibear trap in one of the refuge’s ponds.
Smith’s reaction was to throw up and she’s still feeling a bit sick about the whole thing. She was a volunteer on the refuge for the last four years, but vows never to volunteer again, although she still visits the refuge regularly.
“They didn’t have to kill that beaver and they know it,” said Smith in a recent telephone interview. “They could have relocated it. They should be ashamed of themselves.”
When asked about the trapping, Reed said the refuge had no management plan involving trapping but that special use permits had been issued in past years to trap beavers in certain areas of the refuge for management purposes. That was the case here, he said, when a special permit was issued to trap a particular beaver whose activity was threatening the integrity of a dike that was used to control a pond.
Records show that special permits were issued under former Refuge Manager Pat Gonzales in 1994 and again in 1996. Those permits describe using conibear traps as the primary means and note that all traps will be checked daily.
Reed said that a conibear trap was also used in this recent case, but there was an unrelated incident involving a stolen vehicle that prevented the trapper from checking the trap first thing in the morning of the day it was discovered by the volunteer.
The past permits also stated that trapping activities will continue “no longer than what is necessary to catch the beaver(s) causing problems in identified areas.”
Reed said that the recent permit targeted this particular beaver at one particular site and there were no plans to do any more trapping at this time.
The permit notice concludes with the invitation to, “Please call with suggestions or concerns for a better solution to the trapping proposal.”
Reed said that the refuge did use various methods to mitigate the activity of beavers on the refuge. He said in the last three years $1,544.69 was spent on fencing to protect cottonwood trees from the beavers. He said regeneration of cottonwood in the refuge was limited so some trees were deemed worth protecting.
More serious problems occur when it comes to maintaining the refuge’s system of artificial ponds and impoundments, according to Reed. He said it is true what people are writing in their letters about beavers making good duck habitat with their dams.
“But once man has taken over management and control with water entranceways and exits as we have here, we have to maintain them and sometimes beavers can make it difficult to impossible. Letting this dike wash out was not an option,” Reed said.
He said relocating was also problematic. He said suitable sites for relocation were not easy to find. He said placing a beaver into occupied territory can simply mean a slow death.
Reed said that management of the refuge required a landscape and habitat perspective and could not focus on individual animals or individual animal species.
“Every management decision we make can benefit some species and be a detriment to others,” said Reed. He said they try to promote migratory birds and waterfowl most of all.
Reed said that it was unfortunate that the trapper was prevented from making a timely visit to check the trap and that an unsuspecting person wandering off the trail in a closed part of the refuge happened to come upon it.
He also pointed out that the USFWS rules allow official animal control operations to remove species “which are surplus or detrimental to the management program,” specifically “animal species which are damaging or destroying federal property within a wildlife area.” He said this was precisely the case here. He also points to the Refuge Manual which specifically allows trapping “to minimize furbearer damage to physical facilities (e.g., dikes and water control structures).”
According to Reed, the dike in question makes it particularly difficult to install any sort of protective device or barrier as the water is deep, over nine to ten feet in places, and so is the muck at the bottom, and the area to be protected stretches about 40 feet. He said the cost of such an undertaking would be significant. He said simply taking out the beaver was the best and most cost effective measure at this point in time.
Smith sees things differently.
“They could have relocated that beaver,” said Smith. “I know they are saying they can’t because there’s no place to put it, but I know differently. There are plenty of places if you go out and look.” She said the Refuge staff was just lazy to go find a good spot. She said everything they do costs money, but moving a beaver doesn’t cost that much.
Smith also said that she was threatened with a citation for being off the trail after reporting the incident and that makes her mad.
“I had every right to be there, I work as a volunteer,” she said. “I told him to write the ticket and I’d come down and get it. But he said no.”
Smith said that she has gotten a lot of support since making the Refuge’s actions public and she will not ever do any volunteer work there again or even go in the office.
“They really should be ashamed of themselves,” said Smith.