Conservation and Trapping Science

No muskrat love: Assembly approves bill allowing DNR to shoot highway-damaging rodents
Jun 23, 2021 08:12 ET
There was no muskrat love lost between the Wisconsin Assembly and the semiaquatic rodents on Tuesday, when lawmakers voted to approve a bill that will expand the Department of Natural Resources' ability to shoot a muskrat or beaver causing damage to a highway.

Best known by Captain & Tennille fans for whirling, twirling and tangoing, muskrats and their paddle-tailed beaver brethren can, in fact, cause significant damage to roadways and other infrastructure — causing problems for local governments.

"Beaver can chew trees that subsequently fall onto roadways and they also dam culverts, leading to standing water on roadways. Muskrats can burrow into roadways, damaging the roadway bed," according to written testimony from the DNR.

Rep. James "Jimmy Boy" Edming, R-Glen Flora, said he authored the bill after hearing from a constituent in the town of Atlanta, in Rusk County, where "tons of beavers have moved in."

"They’re damming up the roads, they’re damming up the everything, anything they can dam up," Edming said, addressing lawmakers before the bill passed. "When they dam up an area, it really causes a lot of flooding, and it’s tough on the agriculture, it’s tough on the roads. It costs a lot of money to build these roads and keep them in shape."

Under current law, DNR agents may remove or authorize the removal of a wild animal that is causing damage or a nuisance. "Removal" can be accomplished by "capturing, shooting, setting a trap for, relocating, or otherwise destroying or disposing of the wild animal."

However, current law also prohibits people from discharging a firearm within 50 feet of the center of a roadway.

The bill would lift that ban for the purpose of beaver and muskrat management, as long as doing so does not pose a public safety risk.

"In the case of beavers and muskrats, you can’t really sneak up on them, because they’re pretty smart … and they try to trap them if they can, but a lot of times they can’t," Edming said. "If you’ve ever had an encounter with a muskrat, they can jump five, six feet up in the air. They’re very vicious animals."

Beavers, Edming added, are also "nothing to fool around with."

Both the Wisconsin Counties Association and the Wisconsin Towns Association support the legislation.

In written testimony, the DNR said it does not anticipate any safety concerns with the bill, as permits would be issued on a case-by-case basis "where only necessary and appropriate."

Beaver and muskrat populations "are doing quite well in Wisconsin," according to the DNR, thanks to higher surface water levels and a decrease in trapping resulting from a depressed fur market.

Full story here.