To save trees, beavers are to be killed in park

Carroll engaging trapper to cut population 20%

October 28, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Concerned that the destruction of trees at Piney Run Park in Sykesville is becoming "unmanageable," Carroll County has arranged for a trapper to reduce the beaver population there.

With the number of beavers in the park difficult to determine with certainty but estimated to be at least 200, the county hopes to trim the population by 20 percent during this winter's hunting season, Richard Soisson, county director of parks and recreation, said yesterday.

"There is an overabundance of beaver, and they are taking down a lot of valuable trees," Soisson said. "We really feel there is an imbalance now, and we need to get rid of a few and try to put things back in balance.

"The number of trees destroyed is starting to be unmanageable," he added.

As the park's landowner, the county has given one hunter, who is a county employee, permission to set underwater traps this winter and to keep the animals' pelts.

"These traps are designed to kill an animal nearly instantaneously," said Robert Colona, wildlife biologist for the Maryland Department of the Environment. "If beaver are destroying large trees on a large scale, there is no other practical solution."

Priscilla Feral, president of the Friends of Animals, a national activist group, called the traps "hideous, archaic instruments.

"There is no justification for this," she said. "If you are killing an animal in the winter, you are killing it for its pelt. Isn't it enough that we have displaced beavers, which are indigenous to Maryland? What is a park for but a habitat for animals?"

Piney Run is an 800-acre park with a 2-billion-gallon lake that was built about 30 years ago to eventually be used as a reservoir. The park has a nature center that offers programs throughout the year - including beaver-watching from the park's pontoon boats.

Soisson said that the increased number of fallen trees and the resulting erosion is evidence that the beaver population is increasing. In some areas, the rodents have also tunneled into the banks of the lake and toward the forest, he said.

Beavers - rodents that can grow to as much as 70 pounds - prefer poplar, aspen, willow, birch and maple trees for food and building material, according to animal experts. Beavers pair for life and can live as long as 12 years. Females can bear as many as eight kits a year, although the number is usually half that, according to experts.

The animals are believed to have migrated to Piney Run Lake in the early 1980s, and they have been feasting on trees in the park ever since. Although Maryland has a beaver-trapping season from Jan. 1 to March 15, the rodents apparently have never been harvested at the park.

Lou Ann Dent, a frequent park visitor, criticized the plan to reduce the beaver population. She wants the county to move them to another location.

"These animals are a real attraction and part of the park's education program," Dent said. "Beaver are a natural part of the park environment. Yes, they do damage, but there has to be an alternative to drowning them."

Soisson said that relocating the animals is not feasible. "Where could we move them that the would not be a problem for someone else?" he asked.

Colona, the state biologist, agreed that moving the animals is impractical. "They have virtually filled most habitats and they are highly territorial," he said.

Soisson said the county will evaluate the results of the harvest and decide whether another effort is needed next year.

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