Beavers might be Canadian icons, but the buck-toothed mammals are a growing concern for some Manitoba rural municipalities. The furry nuisances topple trees and plug culverts, flooding towns and farmland.
A new beaver-control program brings good news for farmers, but is troubling for municipal politicians in problem areas, who are concerned the program has unrealistic expectations.
While previous programs funded by the ministries of Conservation and Environment focused on preserving municipal infrastructure, this new program requires councillors to address beaver control on acreages and agricultural lands as well.
“To date we have never gone on private property to chase down the beavers,” said Debbie Soloway, from the Rural Municipality of Mountain. “We leave the landowners to look after their own and we look after the municipal infrastructure.”
The program, announced by the minister of Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, and the MP for Dauphin–Swan River–Marquette in May, provides $1 million across the province for beaver removal, workshops on beaver trapping and non-lethal removal, and equipment. Municipalities were invited to apply for a portion of that and allocated funding based on their needs.
The RM of Mountain received $34,480. Soloway said her municipality has the worst beaver problems in the province. She estimates they trap 2,300 beavers each year.
“And we feel that we’re only catching probably 50 per cent,” she said. She doubles as a trapper, in an effort to save the municipality money. “You have to, here.”
Dane Guignion, another councillor for the RM of Mountain, said he registered to run for reeve before the new program was announced. The change has him second-guessing his decision.
“It’s going to be time consuming, that’s for darn sure,” he said. “All of a sudden everyone’s beaver is the municipality’s responsibility through this program.”
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Guignion and Soloway want to see environmental farm plans completed by those who want beavers removed from their land. That process would likely weed out some landowners, like absentee acreage owners.
Joe Masi, executive director for the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, said this program will bring some changes, but is much better than the alternative.
“There probably wasn’t going to be a beaver program,” he said. “The province through the budget program was going to cut it.”
Federal cash helps
Masi said Agriculture Minister Ron Kostyshyn was instrumental in securing the new funding through Growing Forward 2, a five-year federally and provincially backed policy framework aimed at developing Canada’s agriculture sector.
In an interview, Kostyshyn said he is very familiar with the problems caused by beavers. He was formerly the reeve of Mossy River, adjacent to the RM of Mountain and Ethelbert, the largest beaver problem areas.
He said the municipalities will not be responsible for anything that they were not responsible for before. “The program theoretically has not changed anything basic historically, other than that there are additional dollars that have been brought in,” he said.
Tommy Nakonechny, a grain and cattle farmer at Pine River, said he is pleased with the new program. He said he spends two or three hours a day breaking dams, cleaning culverts, checking his traps and resetting them.
“I got one farm there that if I don’t keep an eye on that creek, (the beavers) could have 50-60 acres of land under water in no time,” he said. “Then everything, the grass dies, the crop dies, everything dies.”
Even though he has trapped since he was a kid, he is interested in the classes offered by the new program. “Sometimes by taking the class you learn little tricks,” he said.
Art Totoroka, reeve of the rural municipality of Ethelbert, said he is grateful for the extra money and the fact that the federal government is involved. But he said the money is still not enough.
“In our municipality I will hazard a guess that we need to take 1,000 beavers every year,” he said. “The program provides for possibly 450 beavers.”
Meanwhile, Soloway continues to trap. That means breaking apart beaver dams and setting traps. Sometimes she even climbs into culverts to dig out the mud and sticks.
“When you finally break that thing and the water comes rushing in, you end up flying out the other end,” she said. “It’s not a pleasant feeling. You have no choice but to ride it off and hope for the best. You’re hoping you can stay afloat and the debris isn’t gonna knock you under the water and stay on you.”