Of water, woods
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
By GREGORY FOLEY
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.
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
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.