The Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge became the focus of a brief trapping dust-up in mid-May after a refuge volunteer went public with a story about discovering a dead beaver in a conibear trap off one of the refuge trails. Critics sounded off in news stories and letters to the editor, with refuge manager Tom Reed countering that the beaver had been trapped under a special use permit for management reasons. One group—the nonprofit Trap Free Montana Public Lands—issued a press release pointing to the incident as another reason to support a 2014 ballot initiative banning trapping statewide.
“Getting our initiative on the ballot and successful passage of it will protect beavers and other species on Montana public lands and refuges,” the group wrote.
But the narrative on Lee Metcalf could be moving toward a less divisive close. Shortly after hearing about the refuge’s actions, members of Footloose Montana met with Reed to express their concerns and open a dialogue about possible non-trapping solutions to problem beavers. Footloose secretary Connie Poten says the group spent “four and a half hours” touring the refuge with Reed and were reassured that “he hasn’t been trapping willy-nilly.”
“He said several times, ‘I’m never going to do that again,’” Poten recalls. “I think he’s really interested in other methods of managing wildlife down there.”
To that end, Footloose is now in talks with the refuge to help install a non-lethal device called a “beaver deceiver”—a trapezoidal fence that angles out and away from the mouth of a culvert, discouraging beavers from damming. The design was developed by Vermont wildlife biologist Skip Lisle. Beaver deceivers have proven successful in protecting culverts in Washington state; Lisle also partnered with Missoula ecologist Amy Chadwick to install such a structure near Butte last year.
Poten adds that Footloose—which intends to push its own anti-trapping ballot initiative in 2016—may also help the Lee Metcalf refuge by installing fencing around several larger cottonwoods to protect them from beavers.
While Reed does feel a beaver deceiver could aid maintenance in certain areas, he says it won’t solve problems with beavers refuge-wide. The refuge’s mandate is to manage for migratory birds. It may not be his preferred option, but Reed says trapping “is a management option we’ll continue to evaluate.”