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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of October 29 - November 4, 2003


Of water, woods
and wildlife

Third-graders see beaver-trapping
program up close

"We actually want the beavers here. They do so much good."

BILL BARKER, Silver Creek Preserve assistant manager

Express Staff Writer

A group of Ketchum elementary-school students last week were given an up-close look at the benefits—and challenges—brought forth by one of southcentral Idaho’s environmental success stories: the resurgence of the beaver.

Bill Barker, right, assistant manager of The Nature Conservancy’s Silver Creek Preserve, east of Picabo, shows students from Ernest Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum a beaver dam underneath a county-owned bridge over Stalker Creek. The county has repeatedly made efforts to eliminate the dam, Barker said.  Express photos by David N. Seelig

"There used to be thousands and thousands of beavers around here," said wildlife biologist David Skinner, addressing Amy Schlatter’s third-grade class from Ernest Hemingway Elementary School.

The class was gathered last Wednesday at The Nature Conservancy’s Silver Creek Preserve, east of Picabo, to learn why Skinner and a small group of dedicated professionals are trapping and relocating beavers throughout Blaine, Camas and Gooding counties.

Bill Whitaker, range technician for the U.S. Forest Service Ketchum Ranger District, demonstrates to a group of Ketchum third-graders how he uses a wire-mesh trap to capture beavers without harming them. Whitaker last week attempted to capture a small clan of beavers in the Silver Creek Preserve to relocate them. No beavers were captured, prompting preserve managers to believe the targeted animals may have relocated on their own. Express photos by David N. Seelig

Skinner, a biologist for the U.S. Forest Service’s Fairfield Ranger District and chairman of the Wood River Interagency Beaver Committee, told the group that "beavers are coming back," after being hunted voraciously in the early 1800s for their thick fur pelts. However, he noted that the resurgence of the large rodent in and around the Wood River Valley has presented a new threat to the species: Beavers that establish colonies in developed areas can sometimes come into conflict with humans.

Standing beside an incomplete beaver dam under Stalker Creek Bridge, in the southwestern corner of the Silver Creek Preserve, Skinner said he and other members of the committee were attempting to trap a small clan of beavers that inhabit the surrounding area. The animals, he noted, were targeted for relocation to another wetland region because officials from Blaine County fear the dam-building activity might ultimately damage the county-owned bridge.

Bill Barker, assistant manager of Silver Creek Preserve, said county employees have repeatedly used heavy equipment to tear the beaver dam out from under the bridge, an activity that could "traumatize" the beavers. "The county will come in and they’ll just rip the whole thing out," Barker said.

To stem the county’s concerns, Skinner and other Beaver Committee members set numerous traps in the area, with plans to relocate the beavers to a new home range where their dam-building instincts could be used favorably. "We move the beavers to spots where we want to do a land-restoration project," Skinner said.

The relocation effort at Stalker Creek is part of a larger effort by the Wood River Beaver Committee to live-trap unwanted beavers from one area and relocate them to areas where their tree cutting and stream damming can restore degraded ecosystems. The committee has relocated 10 beavers so far this fall, Skinner said, primarily to areas near Fairfield suffering from excessive erosion and a loss of native vegetation.

"Beavers are integral to many riparian systems, and most problems with beavers can be mitigated with a little creativity," Skinner noted.

Indeed, with their unique ability to manipulate waterways, beavers are considered nature’s foremost wetland engineers. Beaver dams typically slow down the velocity of moving water—and the erosion it can cause—and establish deep-water ponds that provide habitat for a variety of fish, birds and wildlife. In addition, the dam systems reduce the sediment content in streams and reserve water in areas that might otherwise dry up in warm months.

Because beavers must actively prepare for the cold winter months, they are relocated in the fall to prompt them to settle permanently in a specific area; beavers relocated in summer might roam in search of a different home.

Barker told the school children that Silver Creek Preserve managers do not want to relocate the beavers, but decided it was in their best interest. "We actually want the beavers here," he said. "They do so much good."

When Barker last Wednesday checked the traps set around Stalker Creek Bridge, the students were visibly disappointed that none of the traps had captured a live beaver.

Mark Davidson, manager of Silver Creek Preserve, said Monday that no beavers had been trapped in the area over the weekend, prompting him to consider whether the colony had moved to join a nearby beaver clan elsewhere on the preserve.

"We’re thinking things might be okay for now," Davidson said, noting that all of the beavers in the preserve might now stay put—at least until next year.



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