A lot of people have the idea that hunters and trappers are terrible people who hurt cute furry animals. We had a reminder lesson on the truth when we attended a Manitoba Water Conservation demonstration on how to safely and humanely remove problem beavers. Dick and I attended because we thought it would be a neat adventure and it was. I felt a bit sad when the expert trappers took out two dead beavers and dissected them so we could see the oil and castor sacks. They also showed us how one claw on the rear foot is double to be able to scoop oil and groom their fur so they are water proof in their environment.
There are about 7000 problem beavers taken each year. They are almost all two year olds. At the age of two they are driven out of their lodge by their parents and must find new territory. Since there is only so much beaver territory, and beavers can produce as many as 8 babies each year, the youngsters end up moving into farm land and doing what beavers do. When they find and block a critical drainage ditch (like this one) and begin turning farmland or pasture into beavers ponds, they have to be removed. Live trapping simply doesn’t work. Beavers are highly territorial and if you move these youngsters to a wild area, they will be attacked and killed by adult beavers already present or eaten by predators. And so they have to be trapped and killed. The trappers are licensed and hired by the Conservation District to remove problem beavers at the request of land owners. They use humane instant kill traps designed to snap onto the beaver and break its neck. Alternatively they use weighted leg traps that drown the beaver. The trappers sell the hides, the oil and especially the castor. The castor is used in the finest perfumes and as a natural flavour in food and brings in $50/lb. Some beavers are eaten, especially by local Aboriginal groups.
We got a lengthy lesson on beaver lore and their life cycle and how they interact with their habitat. We were shown all the time and effort that goes into fooling beavers so they are trapped. Beavers are really smart and you need to hide the traps and use caster from other beavers so the beaver rushes in all pissed off about an intruder and spoiling for a fight. Even then, the beavers often trip the trap with sticks and avoid being caught. The older the beaver, the smarter and more likely to not get caught.
We learned about the problems trappers face. City do gooders like to come and spring the traps to “save” the beavers. The traps are valuable and so they get stolen whether by greenies or by common thieves. We learned a lot about beavers and their role in the country. We got to enjoy some fresh air and views of the country flora and wildlife. For me, the highlight of the trip was we got to ride in an all terrain vehicle (called a Gator around here) traveling to and from the beaver dam. That was a first for me and a lot of fun.