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Patricia Randolph’s Madravenspeak: Rather than slaughtering beaver, we should protect this builder of wetlands

Patricia Randolph’s Madravenspeak: Rather than slaughtering beaver, we should protect this builder of wetlands

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“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” ~ John Muir

American Indians called beavers the “sacred center” because they create the cradle of life that supports biodiversity, rivaling the tropical rainforests. When beavers were almost exterminated by 1900 for the beaver hat fad, most wetlands were destroyed with them. Now, in some parts of the country, beavers survive at 10 percent of their numbers before Europeans settled here, but not in Wisconsin.

The DNR promotes beaver genocide with unlimited trapping. Trappers sell dead beavers for $13 each. In 2008, the Department of Natural Resources estimated that there were 66,800 beavers in the entire state. During the 2008-09 winter, trappers reported killing 37,425 beavers, and in 2009-10, killed another 31,049, totaling 68,474. The DNR calls this regulated trapping. They cannot call it responsible science.

Kim McCarthy, chairman of Trout Unlimited Wisconsin, posted a letter and DNR beaver survey to the membership on their website that explains beaver destruction. He urges members to respond to the survey “to let the department know that we feel strongly about continuing to remove beaver from trout waters.”

The DNR survey was targeted to Trout Unlimited for predictable input.

Nonprofits that wish to kill one species to farm for another species to kill are the darlings of the DNR. This is also a gift to the trappers who pay $20 per year to torture and kill hundreds of animals each season.

I served on the trapping committee of the Conservation Congress (that is supposed to represent all citizens) as an elected Dane County delegate from 1999-2002. When I attended the annual trapping committee meeting, the DNR staff made a presentation on beaver trapping. In 1985, the DNR had designated 1,000 miles, now 2,000 miles, of Wisconsin river systems as “Class A Trout Streams.” Their “improvement” plan was to dynamite out every beaver dam on those rivers and drowning trap every beaver out of the landscape. They have continued this devastation for 26 years. The “problem” is that these master engineers warm water behind their dams, which drops oxygen levels needed for stocking trout. The solution, as usual, is entirely framed in killing opportunity.

For two special interests, Trout Unlimited and the Trappers Association, the DNR has obliterated the most rich and endangered wetland habitats throughout our state.

Freshwater wetlands have been rated as the world’s most valuable land-based ecosystems, and they are masterfully created by beavers. Studies have shown that 81 percent of threatened and endangered species live in the eco-niches, ponds, bogs and meadows produced by beaver dam building. According to the EPA, one-half of rare species require freshwater wetlands during lifecycles.

Hydrologists blame the uncontrolled trapping of beavers, along with intensive drainage for agriculture, for most of North America’s major environmental problems. It costs $10,000-$100,000/acre to build man-made wetlands but beavers build and maintain them for free.

Beavers are a keystone species because their dams provide:

• Mini-reservoirs that keep water on land longer, alleviating both drought and regional flooding.

• Slowing water flow, creating quiet nurseries for fish and many vital organisms.

• Wetland microorganisms, detoxifying pollutants such as pesticides and farm run-off.

• Filtering, resulting in healthier downstream habitats and much less costly water treatments at plants producing drinking water for humans.

• Beaver-created canals that carry water inland and create the best terrestrial life support system on earth.

• Marshy peat lands which are superb ecosystems for carbon sequestration, lessening climate change.

As the quantity and quality of water supplies have become more critical, recognition of beavers and their essential protection of water and other species has been urged by the scientific community.

At the same time the DNR chose blowing up beaver dams and killing out beavers, humane strategies were being developed to deal with beaver/human conflicts to leave beavers and their essential contribution to ecosystems intact. These are lasting solutions without the repeated costs and anti-environmental trauma of dam removal and drowning traps. The Clemson leveler was researched at Clemson University to solve flooding problems. Thirty years of testing has yielded 93 percent client satisfaction. The Beaver Deceiver runs a simple pipe construction notched through the bottom of the dam. The beaver patches the notch, but studies have shown they do not detect the open end of the pipe. This allows the water to flow through to set water levels meeting human needs, and keep the temperature trout-friendly.

The Beavers Wetlands & Wildlife nonprofit website is devoted to “helping people learn about a species that builds the land’s best life support system — and about lasting, win-win solutions for beaver/human conflicts” these past 20 years. Twenty years and the DNR has not implemented these economical, eco-harmonious, humane solutions?

This wholesale cruelty to beavers and destruction of our most valuable and diverse ecosystems defies all science and is baffling — unless you understand the DNR. Eighty years of killing-license funding has biased the agency to an obsession with destroying our wildlife and the vital natural systems they create.

A solution urgently needed is to legislate general public funding in lieu of killing-license bias. Fair participation of all citizens would create a vibrant Wisconsin, enriched with the beauty of living wildlife as the “sacred center” of wild native nature.

Dec. 11 column: The stunning rise of wildlife watching as an economic powerhouse in Wisconsin

Patricia Randolph of Portage is a longtime activist for wildlife.