The first time I ever watched beavers at work in Wyoming, they were busy fortifying their lodge on Slough Creek in the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park. As my husband was fly-fishing for trout nearby I watched for hours as the two beavers went back and forth to their growing lodge.
As nature’s engineers these amazing animals build dams that keep waterways healthy and create ponds and wetlands that provide important habitat for young fish and other animals, protecting them and allowing them to grow.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has drafted new regulations that would allow any and all fur trappers to kill beavers in unlimited numbers in several creeks around Jackson Hole. Currently, just a single trapper is allowed to operate in those waterways.
That shortsighted proposal would be bad for beavers and bad for the wild lands Wyoming residents treasure. In response to the draft regulations, public comments submitted on the proposal showed strong opposition to increased trapping in these areas.
Now the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has reconsidered the proposal. The Game and Fish Commission will review and vote upon beaver proposals during it July 18 and 19 meeting in Rock Springs.
It is still unclear why wildlife managers considered opening the creeks to increased beaver trapping. As someone who works to protect critical wildlife in the West, I asked Wyoming’s wildlife officials if they knew of any trappers interested in increasing beaver trapping, and they told me no. The entire idea came completely out of the blue. And there doesn’t seem to be any good reason for it.
The beaver population around Jackson Hole is probably healthy. But there is no evidence — at least not that the Game and Fish Department has presented — to show that there is overpopulation or that beavers are causing problems.
Even if there were too many beavers in the area, relocation has proven successful in the last decade. There are plenty of places in Wyoming where beavers have been nearly or fully wiped out where beavers could be relocated.
In the past, beaver trapping was completely unregulated, which caused the animals to disappear across much of the state. While they have recovered somewhat, their numbers are nowhere near what they once were.
Wyoming wildlife officials do not even know how many beavers are in the state. They have proposed a new annual study with aerial counts and documentation of population trends, but since the study is not even underway, that data is not yet available.
One thing is for sure: There are a lot more recreational anglers in Wyoming than trappers. And they would be far better served by beaver ponds along the creeks in question, which would offer fantastic fishing opportunities.
On top of the lack of science in the proposal to allow free-for-all beaver trapping in the creeks, just a week after the beaver trapping proposal was released the Game and Fish Department published a report on the animals.
The report specifically points out that “the economic benefits of trapping to the state cannot begin to compare with the economic benefits derived from the beavers’ stabilizing influence on watersheds.” The irony of that statement alongside the proposal for allowing any interested trapper to kill beavers around Jackson Hole is not lost on anyone paying attention to this debate.
And plenty of people are watching and speaking out against the ill-considered proposal. As reported by this newspaper, Game and Fish received at least 60 responses from people earlier this month. Those responses were nearly all against the department’s proposal.
Now the agency has altered its proposal, recommending closing some of the rivers around Jackson Hole to trapping, while still leaving other drainages open for unlimited trapping.
Given the lack of interest from trappers and strong opposition, we hoped the agency would have gone further and proposed closing all areas near Jackson Hole to trapping. The commission will have an opportunity to take that step and listen to public opinion at its next meeting, and we hope it will do so.