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North American beaver (Castor canadensis)

Likelihood of seeing: Moderate

Beavers play an important role in the Yellowstone ecosystem, creating natural dams that divert streams and allow water to pool. Beavers are native to Yellowstone, with more than 100 colonies present in the park. They are most easily spotted along river tributaries, particularly in the Mammoth area Beaver Ponds, Harlequin Lake, Bechler River and Slough Creek areas.

The May 25 Billings Gazette published an opinion entitled “Montana must end trapping for sport" by Anja Heister. The column contained numerous inaccurate and misleading statements concerning trapping in Montana. I will respond to these statements.

She stated that “one million plant and animal species are at imminent risk of extinction”. 

According to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department, there are four threatened species living in Montana: bull trout, Canada lynx, grizzly bear and piping plover. There is no legal trapping season on these species in Montana.

She wrote: “An estimated 60 million beaver lived in North America in 1492”.

This is a crude estimate at best as there is no way to verify the figure. Columbus landed in the Caribbean and did not set foot in North America in 1492 to take beaver counts.

Heister said: “ In Montana alone, trappers brutally kill tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of wild animals caught in leg hold traps, conifer traps and snares every trapping season “. She refers to beaver, and further implies that massive trapping of these animals in Montana is for recreation and profit.

Montana FWP allows the trapping of 15 different fur bearer species. FWP statistics show that over a 10 year period, the total take of all fur bearer species combined was 3,081 per year. Massive trapping of tens or hundreds of thousands of animals does not occur in Montana.

According to the FWP “ Furbearer Program Statewide Harvest Management Report 2013-2014 Montana”, the total number of trapping licenses sold over this 2-year period was 5,957. At a price of $20, this yields an income of $119,140 for FWP to spend on habitat improvement, research, and management of wildlife. Clearly, FWP is not getting rich or receiving huge profits by allowing trapping to occur in Montana.

The FWP 2013-2014 report also shows that over the same 2-year period the total number of beaver trapped in Montana was 12,503 (average of 6,252 per year ). The average price paid per beaver pelt over this same 2-year period was $26.71, yielding a potential value of $333,955. This value divided by the number of trappers over the same 2-year period yields a income of $56 per trapper. This income does not cover the cost of running the trapline. Truly, the trapper is not getting a large monetary profit from trapping. 

Heister wrote: “ Montana provides headwaters for the entire continent."

This is not true. Montana streams provide water to the Missouri and Columbia River Basins. Montana does not provide water to areas east of the Mississippi River or the Desert South West.

Heister is a co-founder of Footloose Montana, a nonprofit organization that promotes trap free public lands for people, pets and wildlife.

A report released by FWP titled “ Wildlife Management and Regulated Trapping in Montana" shows that in the 2008-09 trapping season, there were four documented reports of dog mortalities of which three were on public land and one on private land. Three of the dogs were without owners and the other was roughly one mile away from its owner. There is no record of a hiker or other recreationist ever being caught in a trap. I suggest that Heister keep her pet on a leash or under control while hiking or using public lands.

Trappers are a part of the public and also have a right to use the public lands that they support through their federal taxes. The fee that trappers pay for a license is used by Montana FWP to acquire lands that are used by organizations such as Footloose Montana to recreate on. I suggest that Footloose Montana donate a value equal to the trappers license fees, to FWP each year to help support the maintenance of the public lands that they hike on.

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Thomas Zwick, of Hardin, is a retired professor of geology, who used to do some trapping.

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