Genuine attempt to spread the Gospel of the Beaver, or camel’s nose under the tent?
Last Friday saw Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission member Melanie Rowland likely going for a bit of both and settling for the former, for the time being.
She introduced a “blue sheet,” a formal request by a commissioner to WDFW to look into something of interest to the citizen panel that oversees WDFW policy. Hers had to do with beavers, a subject “near and dear to my heart.”
Rowland wanted the commission to A) hold discussions on management policies around the bucktoothed rodents that “supports the Department in assisting landowners with nonlethal solutions to beaver problems,” and their premier role in restoring riparian areas.
She’s been impressed by ongoing beaver work in the Methow Valley, where she retired after serving as a NOAA attorney on Endangered Species Act issues and other matters.
There can be zero doubt about the importance of beavers to salmonid habitat, particularly coho, steelhead and cutthroat, benefits that in the slowing and ponding of water extend to creation of fish and wildlife habitat and refreshing aquifers.
“Behold the beaver – rodent beyond compare!” this true believer has written in the past. I ran an excerpt of Ben Goldfarb’s book on Castor canadensis in the January 2019 issue of the magazine.
Of course, beavers do cause problems – tipping over trees that landowners don’t want tipped over; damming streams they’d prefer not to have back up over their back 40.
And so it goes with Rowland’s blue sheet.
She also wanted the commission to B) consider enacting a “temporary moratorium” on trapping the species until a new beaver management policy is passed. She noted there could be areas where beavers shouldn’t be trapped because of their importance to habitat for various species.
“The reason I do think that it’s very important that it be done relatively quickly is that, there are beaver projects that are looking for beavers to relocate and they said, We don’t have enough; they’re trapped and there’s just not enough around,'” she said.
Commissioner Kim Thorburn of Spokane, however, heard it as an attempt to make commission policy on beaver trapping without first following a public process, and Vice Chair Molly Linville of Douglas County agreed.
Rowland is among the wing of fish and wildlife management reformists currently on the panel, which earlier this year scuttled the 2022 spring bear hunt. It means their proposals and moves around similar traditional activities should be scrutinized.
Eventually Rowland agreed to take out her trapping moratorium, but she still wanted to go full speed ahead on developing a new beaver management policy.
Touching on the 2012 legislature’s nearly unanimous passage of a rule that bolstered efforts to put problem beavers into areas they could do some real good, Rowland said, “My feeling is that WDFW could come up to speed fairly quickly and get a modern beaver management policy adopted … It is past time for the department and commission to come up with a modern beaver management policy.”
A perusal of WDFW’s beaver webpage suggests agency staffers are pretty familiar with the species and dealing with conflicts.
While fellow commissioners expressed interest in a general briefing on Washington’s beavers somewhere in the near future, some were hesitant to go further.
“So Commissioner Rowland, I think this is why folks are nervous, right,” said Linville. “We just leapt from ‘We’re going to get a briefing’ back to policy.”
“No, no, no,” responded Rowland. “I’m not asking for that. I’m saying it is my view, being quite familiar with this and knowing how long these things have been going on and how much clear information there is, it is my view that it won’t be that tough for the department or the commission to agree that, ‘Yeah, this could be a really good thing to do.’ I’m not saying we have to jump to that policy right away.”
Commissioners Lorna Smith, Tim Ragen and Barbara Baker were in favor of holding a briefing, and so was Jim Anderson, who added, “but I don’t support an agenda that goes beyond that.”
If Oregon’s experience is any indication, it is most assuredly not something that will turn on a dime.
A proposal to ban trapping in the coastal Siuslaw National Forest in mid-2020 – I went very, very long on it here – led to the creation of the “Beaver Management Workgroup,” complete with charter, formation of an extensive stakeholder panel, hiring of facilitators and more. Meetings finally began earlier this year.
In the end and somewhat exasperated, Rowland withdrew her blue sheet request after WDFW’s Wildlife Division manager Eric Gardner offered to put together a briefing on the status of the state’s population, its management and “the current state of knowledge on the benefit of beavers to habitat restoration.”
As it stands, beaver take by licensed Washington trappers is relatively low during a season that runs November 1-March 31.
In 2020, the most recent year data is available, 964 were reported trapped across the state, including 275 in WDFW’s Region 4 (North Sound), 265 in Region 6 (the Coast), 149 in Region 5 (Southwest Washington), 111 in Region 1 (far Eastern Washington), 74 in Region 3 (Southcentral Washington) and 72 in Region 2 (Northcentral Washington).
Pierce County trappers took the most beavers, 137, following by Lewis (113) and Snohomish (96). A number of counties – and not just dryland ones, but wet and wooded ones too – registered zero or just a handful of beavers: Chelan, Douglas, Island, Kitsap, Lincoln, Pacific, Skamania, Spokane and Walla Walla.
Prior years show a total of 755 beavers trapped in Washington in 2019; 730 in 2018; 810 in 2017; 676 in 2016; 249 in 2015; 401 in 2014; and 537 in 2013.
In the decade prior to passage of a ban on body-gripping traps in 2000, annual harvest averaged 5,289.
In 2020, I reported that Oregon trappers trapped 2,612. Since 1997, they’ve also been asked to voluntarily not put sets in coho streams, and follow-up phone surveys determined 1.2 percent of the harvest came from those waters.
Per Trapping Today’s forecast for the 2021-22 season, “If you have a top quality beaver pelt it’s possible to get $25 or more. But most beaver collections will probably average around $10 this year. Some will struggle to get this.” Their castor is more valuable, going for $100 a pound, last season.
WDFW also records the number of beavers relocated or removed due to conflicts. Relocations ranged from 16 in 2021 to 84 in 2017, while removals have dropped from 1,743 in 2016 to 386 in 2019 and 502 in 2020.
The Tulalip Tribes have been working to place problem beavers into forested areas of eastern Snohomish County, attracting a lot of positive media attention over the years.