Mostly Trapping

Beaver: Population is booming with drop in pelt value
Jan 16, 2019 09:43 ET

(Reprinted from above link)

SLAYTON — Southwest Minnesota seems to have a very healthy population of beavers, and it may only get worse with the devaluation of beaver pelts offering little incentive to area trappers.

Late last month, the Murray County Board of Commissioners renewed its commitment to control the beaver population by reauthorizing a beaver bounty. For the past several years, the county has paid $60 for each beaver trapped from the county’s open ditch systems.

In 2018, Murray County paid $600 to trappers for getting 10 beavers out of the county’s ditch system, according to Auditor-Treasurer Heidi Winter.

Howard Konkol, Murray County ditch inspector, said he doesn’t know how many years the bounty has been in place, but the incentive has provided him with a list of half a dozen trappers he can call upon when beavers have dammed up water in the county’s open ditches.

“There has to be a problem in our open ditch system — tile outlets under water,” Konkol explained of the beaver bounty. The bounty kicks in after a landowner signs a repair petition on an open ditch, Konkol verifies there is a problem with beavers and a trapper is contacted to trap them.

From past experience, Konkol said it does no good to go in and break up the beaver dam and not address the beaver that built it.

“Two to three days later, they rebuild a dam downstream from where the dam was,” he said.

Although the trapping season for beavers in Minnesota extends from Oct. 27 to May 15, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will issue a nuisance permit to the county and trapper out of season when necessary.

Konkol said he called upon trappers four times last year to get beavers out so their dam could be removed from the county ditch.

“Normally we give them two weeks to trap and then send the contractor out to rip out the dam,” he said.

Jim Wedo has trapped in and around Murray County since 1964, and is one of the trappers Konkol calls upon when beavers start causing problems in the county ditch system.

Though he handles just a couple of calls per year for the county, Wedo is quick to say beavers are more of a problem than that. Murray County’s bounty kicks in if a beaver si within 1,000 feet of an open ditch.

“Frankly, beaver are rampant and are out of control in this two-county area (Murray and Nobles),” Wedo said, adding that neighboring Cottonwood and Lyon counties also have high beaver populations. “As soon as you remove them, a year or two later they’re back in there.”

Wedo said trappers just aren’t keeping the beaver population under control, and that’s due to a few reasons — fewer trappers, the measly $3 to $5 paid for beaver pelts and the labor-intensive work of skinning out a beaver.

“Everything else is easier to put up than beaver,” Wedo said.

The market for beaver pelts is at nearly a 10-year low, which has caused a lot of people to stop trapping them.

“The county offering beaver control (incentives) helps quite a bit,” Wedo said.

Nobles County Drainage System Coordinator Brad Harberts said Nobles County commissioners had one time talked about a bounty on beavers, but as of yet no action has been taken. He said it would be a good idea.

Beavers are an ongoing problem in the county, Harberts said.

“If we don’t take them out of the ditch, sometimes they can back water up four feet deep and that affects outlet pipes,” he added. “We removed two or three dams for sure (last year) and possibly another one was built before freeze-up.”

The beavers build their dams across the entire width of the ditch, in some cases 10 to 12 feet across, and then high enough to create a 3- to 4-foot change in water elevation. The dams are constructed of whatever is in close proximity. In county ditches, it’s mostly a combination of cornstalks and mud from the ditch bank.

Beavers live in colonies that typically range from two to six animals. Wedo said the best way to determine if he’s been successful at trapping all of the beaver is to cut a 6-inch notch in the dam. Beavers like to keep the dam nice and neat, and if he sees it’s been repaired, he knows there’s still more beavers to trap.

“That last one is really hard to get,” Wedo said. “So many of the beaver here are getting old enough — they’re exceedingly educated. Beaver in the northwoods are a little dumber, in my opinion. Some people say it’s easier to catch a coyote than an educated beaver.”

Bill Schuna, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources area wildlife manager based in Slayton, said he gets about 10 letters a year to take beaver out of season in his four-county work area of Murray, Nobles, Rock and Pipestone counties. He receives letters both from counties and from private landowners seeking permission to trap the nuisance critters.

“We have wildlife areas where beavers are causing chronic problems,” Schuna said, adding that their dams raise the water level of wetlands, which in turn impedes drainage, causing cropland flooding and, in some cases, flooded roads.

“The population appears to be very healthy,” Schuna said, adding that he’s battled the beavers for his entire career with the DNR.

Schuna agreed that the decline in beaver pelt value has created an overabundance of beaver in the region.

“The major fur buyers are in China and Russia and they aren’t buying as much fur as they used to,” he said.

Schuna said anyone who has problems with beavers and damming up of water is welcome to contact his office at (507) 836-6919 for technical advice.

“We do have a list of trappers, and offer letters of permission for taking them out of season,” he added.