Following public objections and opposition from some unlikely camps, wildlife managers are walking back plans to open up an array of Jackson Hole streams to unlimited beaver trapping.
Portions of Ditch Creek, Willow Creek and Game creeks were all positioned to be open to any trapper possessing an over-the-counter license but will now be recommended for a complete closure.
Draft regulations that will advance next month to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission will still recommend that Fall, Mosquito and Dog creeks — now collectively managed and restricted to a single trapper — be opened to any fur trapper who’s interested. Little Horse Creek falls into this same category.
Public insight gathered through the season-setting process and input from biologists prompted the revisions, Game and Fish spokesman Mark Gocke said.
“Limited quota is a management strategy that’s used when there’s fear of possible over-harvest, and our data shows that we’ve had a real drop-off of beaver harvest,” he said. “So it does not make sense to have limited quota anymore. It also restricts our ability to deal with problems.”
The revised draft regulations haven’t been published but will be posted to Game and Fish’s website in the next week or two, Gocke said. Until the proposal is issued, Gocke said it's difficult to say which portions of Ditch Creek, Willow Creek and Game creek would be closed.
Detractors of Game and Fish’s original beaver trapping plans for the seven streams included one of the valley’s long-standing fur trappers, Hoback resident John Branca.
“I think it would be foolish to do away with the permits,” Branca told the News&Guide last week. “They serve a purpose.”
Branca said he was regularly trapping beavers in the early 1990s when Game and Fish changed the rules and capped the streams in question at a single trapper apiece.
“People would just pound them,” Branca recalled. “High fur prices drive problems, and these areas that they’re talking about are so accessible, where if the prices are ever to go up again I would worry about the rookies.”
The Game and Fish proposal to do away with the limited-quota licenses came after individuals acquired the exclusive permits through a lottery but then didn’t trap any beavers. Genuine fur trappers who won the permits but didn’t live locally and trap regularly were also a factor in the decision, Gocke said. Participation in beaver trapping has also been falling generally, another reason to do away with limited licenses, he said.
Last trapping season none of the four permits went to people who used them.
“We feel like that opportunity is there to be provided [to beaver trappers],” Game and Fish Regional Wildlife Coordinator Doug McWhirter told the News&Guide in May.
Under the revised proposed regulations, the 27-year-old special rules for the Little Horse, Fall, Mosquito and Dog creek drainages would be eliminated, and beavers could be trapped on an unlimited basis during the Oct. 1 to April 30 open season, which is the default regulation statewide. Undetermined portions of Ditch Creek, Willow Creek, and Game Creek would simply be off-limits to beaver trapping.
While vetting its original plan, Game and Fish received at least five dozen responses from people and organizations. The responses that filtered in by early last week — a week ahead of the comment deadline — were almost exclusively opposed.
One Jackson Hole group that staked out its opposition is the Wyoming Wetlands Society, which has spent years relocating problem-causing beavers from private lands into streams like Ditch Creek.
“Unregulated trapping in the 19th Century led to the extirpation of beaver from much of Wyoming, and while beaver have re-occupied large portions of their historic range, they have only done so at roughly 10% of densities found prior to European contact,” Wyoming Wetlands Society employees Carl Brown, Cory Abrams and Bill Long wrote in a comment letter.
“We are opposed to changing these areas from limited quota to unlimited take, and believe they do not uphold the recommendations set forth by the state in the State Wildlife Action Plan,” the biologists and former game warden wrote. “Unlimited trapping of beaver has the potential to inflict negative population impacts and potentially lead to localized extirpation.”
The statewide plan that their letter refers to calls for Game and Fish to cooperate with land managers and landowners to reestablish beavers in streams where they were wiped out during the fur trading era.
Other trappers were at odds with Branca about the regulation change.
Jackson Hole resident and Wyoming State Trappers Association board President Mike Beres has spoken in support, and former resident Daniel Turvey sent in a similarly appreciative written comment.
“The populations in those drainages are more than robust, and trappers are conservationists by nature, meaning they will not exhaust the resource,” Turvey, now of Belgrade, Montana, wrote to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission.
But the overwhelming majority of people who took the time to type a comment disagreed with the state’s original plans.
Ditch Creek resident Bob Caesar is among those who successfully acquired a trapping permit for his neighborhood stream and then proceeded not to use it. His reasoning was that the Wyoming Wetlands Society had been transplanting problem beavers into the drainage to reestablish populations, but a fur trapper was running a trapline that was negating the effort. Today, Caesar said, beavers are relatively sparse in the drainage that climbs east into the Leidy Highlands.
“I do know from talking to old-timers that they’re used to be some big beaver ponds up here and good trout fishing in those beaver ponds,” Caesar said in an interview. “And that’s all gone.”
Caesar was disappointed with how Game and Fish initially responded to the situation.
“I look at it as being vindictive, and that’s the kind of stuff you do in middle school,” Caesar said. “Why don’t they pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey Bob, can we talk about this? ‘But they went around [us].”
Game and Fish biologists say they value the role of beavers, a species that’s considered an “ecosystem engineer” that benefits an array of other wildlife through its dam-building.
“We recognize the keystone nature of beavers,” Game and Fish’s McWhirter said, “and their extremely valuable role on the landscape. We don’t want to see that impacted.”
A “statement of reasons” appended to the state’s planned rule change does not explain why the limited seasons are being lifted.
Some reaches of northwest Wyoming streams are already completely closed to beaver trapping, including Cache Creek, Cliff Creek and Granite Creek downstream of the hot springs. A common thread among those three streams is that they parallel roads, are easily accessed and see heavy recreational use.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission is scheduled to review the statewide trapping regulations July 18 and 19 in Rock Springs. A Jackson public meeting about the changes passed by in late May, and the state agency accepted public comments through Monday.
According to one wildlife management watchdog, the limited-quota beaver seasons on some northwest Wyoming streams are some of the most progressive trapping regulations in the American West.
“We think they’re a good example of how trapping could be managed in other places,” said Chris Colligan, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition’s wildlife program coordinator.
“They shouldn’t be changed,” Colligan said, “in part because it creates accountability. Allowing one trapper in one drainage is just good management.”
Lisa Robertson, the founder of the advocacy group Wyoming Untrapped, is another local resident who secured a license but then didn’t trap beavers.
“Anybody can choose not to hunt on any kind of hunting permit,” Robertson told the News&Guide.
Probably because of outreach by Wyoming Untrapped, many comments submitted to Game and Fish objecting to removing the limited quotas came from across the United States and expressed a dim view of trapping.
Sedona, Arizona, resident Joanne Kendrick wrote: “It’s not just that a few people are allowed to indiscriminately kill this wildlife. Trapping is pure cruelty, causing injuries, exposure, dehydration, and mental stress and often immense suffering.”
Punta Gorda, Florida, resident Mary Shabbott expressed similar opposition, writing, “No to any killing of these animals.”
But many comments also came from Teton County residents who had specific reasons for disliking the regulations and offered local insights into beaver populations.
Jackson writer and retired Bridger-Teton National Forest employee Susan Marsh took issue with changes that were afoot to Fall and Mosquito creeks, two of the drainages still slated for unlimited trapping. At both streams, she noted that beaver activity often occurs right along the well-used roads paralleling the creeks.
“Therefore the ease of trapping is increased in the same places where people camp and picnic,” Marsh wrote. “Instead of going to an unlimited take of beavers in these areas, we would urge [Game and Fish] to approach trapping regulations with caution, realizing that this activity can be incompatible with other uses of the national forest.
“The more dogs that end up in leg hold traps or snares,” she said, “the more public outrage will turn toward trapping in general.”
Game and Fish, meanwhile, is moving forward with plans to implement an annual beaver-monitoring program. The results from the surveys, which will be both ground-based and aerial, could help shape future beaver trapping seasons.
“If we ever want to revert back to a limited-quota season, we could,” Gocke said. “But at this point we don’t think we need to.”
Editors note: This story has been modified to clarify which streams are slated to close and remain open to beaver trapping. A sentence was also added describing how waning participation in beaver trapping was another factor in the proposal to move away from limited-quota seasons.