More beavers could soon be trapped in some Jackson Hole streams, while parts of other drainages would be off-limits to trapping to allow populations of the large aquatic rodent to recover.
Trapping regulations approved by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission last week close all of the Game Creek watershed to beaver trapping, plus much of the Willow Creek and Ditch Creek drainages.
Mosquito, Fall, Dog and Little Horse creeks, meanwhile, will transition from limited-quota areas restricted to a single trapper to unlimited-harvest zones open to any trapper.
The proposed changes, which have evolved since they were first issued, turned heads earlier this year, because they came after non-trappers had started acquiring the limited licenses and prevented beavers from being trapped.
Jackson Hole resident and Wyoming Untrapped founder Lisa Robertson was among those who won licenses and chose not to trap. She traveled to Rock Springs last week to address commissioners.
“The department decision to open all limited-quota beaver areas to unlimited trapping was questionable,” Robertson told commissioners Thursday, “but we would like to thank the department for responding to our Wyoming take-action public comments to reverse some of the short-sighted proposal.”
The commission’s decision to endorse regulations that have the fingerprints of Wyoming Untrapped is an about-face from the board’s stance in 2015. That year, a furbearer trapping ban that Game and Fish had proposed in the lower Cache Creek drainage was shot down because of the advocacy group’s involvement.
“I would just like to say I do believe this is a first step to try to stop trapping in Wyoming,” former Game and Fish Commissioner Carrie Little said at the time, “and I’m not supportive of regulations that replace personal responsibility that people should have for their pets.”
Game and Fish Regional Director Brad Hovinga was in Rock Springs to explain why the department endorsed the closures of some streams and less-restrictive seasons elsewhere. The special rules for Ditch, Willow, Game, Little Horse, Fall, Mosquito and Dog creek drainages were instated 27 years ago because of concerns that beavers were being over-harvested in easily accessible areas.
But a decline in interest in beaver trapping was part of the reason for doing away with those old regulations, Hovinga said.
“Our game wardens in Teton County are very in tune to who the trappers are, what they’re trapping [and] where they’re trapping,” Hovinga said, “and they’re not seeing the pressure that warrants a limited-quota system.”
Some streams still warrant special protections, he said. Game Creek, one of the limited-quota streams that will now be totally closed, is a popular recreation destination for residents, and public comments that filtered in supported the closure.
“There aren’t many beaver in there anymore,” Hovinga said. “Both of our field personnel agreed with some of the public comment, as well as the Wyoming [State] Trappers Association.”
Ditch Creek was also a good candidate for closing, Hovinga told commissioners. The closed area stretches from a private land boundary to the confluence of the stream’s middle and north forks. Teton Science Schools students, he said, use the lower portion of the watershed, and it’s also the site of an ongoing beaver restoration project.
Hovinga made the case that the four streams that would transition to unlimited trapping can sustain increased pressure. Three of them — Mosquito, Fall and Dog creeks — were previously managed jointly, capped at a single trapper who could kill a maximum of 25 beavers.
A year ago, Robertson applied for and held that right but didn’t use the license.
“We feel that the entire limited-quota area has healthy beaver populations,” Hovinga said, “and can sustain some recreational harvest.”
Robertson pushed back on that. She closed her comments to commissioners with a request to extend the closed areas to cover all of the formerly limited-quota zones.
“One thing for sure is there are a lot more recreational anglers in Wyoming than trappers,” she said, “and they would be far better served by beaver ponds along the creeks in question, which would offer fantastic fishing opportunities.”
Wyoming’s seven-month beaver trapping season runs from Oct. 1 to April 30 and imposes no limit on the number of beavers a trapper can take.
The draft regulations for the 2019-20 season, which commissioners unanimously approved without changes, are attached to the online version of this story at JHNewsAndGuide.com.