Beavers in Carroll park get a reprieve

Piney Run trapping plan felled by public outcry

November 02, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Faced with increasing opposition from residents and animal rights groups, Carroll County officials have called off plans to reduce the beaver population at Piney Run Park in Sykesville.

Less than a week after the county's plan to use underwater traps to kill beavers at the park's lake became public, officials said they were canceling the hunt and looking for other methods to manage the rodents' effect on the forest.

"We are re-evaluating the situation and will not do the trapping in January," Richard Soisson, the county director of recreation and parks, said Friday.

"We want more information on alternatives to trapping and a better handle on the number of beavers in the park," Soisson said.

Officials at Piney Run Park, which includes a popular nature center, originally estimated that as many as 200 beavers have taken up residence in lodges along the lake.

The beavers are responsible for felled trees, pointed stumps, barren patches and a situation that had become "unmanageable," Soisson said in an interview Monday.

On Friday, Soisson said: "Since the news of the plan got out, we have had a lot of negative publicity and enough calls from those concerned for the beaver that we have decided to pursue alternatives."

Public outcry

Soisson said he received many calls from South Carroll residents, as well as from the state Humane Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

"This decision was the result of a lot of phone calls and publicity," said Lou Ann Dent, who kayaks on the lake several times a week. "It's great news."

Laura Simon, urban wildlife director for the Fund for Animals, said, "The county should be ashamed of a plan to remove creatures who belong in the park and it should be thankful that the public knew better than the government."

At Piney Run Lake, the animals have felled many trees along the shoreline and are changing the look of the forest, Loren W. Lustig, manager of the 800-acre park, said last week.

Beavers tunneling from the lake banks to farther reaches of the forest trees are also causing erosion.

The county had contracted a hunter who planned to place underwater traps in the lake during the state's beaver hunting season, which opens Jan. 1 and runs through March 15.

The plan called for trapping about 20 percent of the beaver population in devices designed to instantly kill any beaver that might swim into them.

While a state wildlife biologist said the traps are a valid tool to combat the large-scale destruction of trees by beavers, animal rights activists called the traps archaic and cruel.

Part of the scenery

Beavers are a favorite with park visitors, boaters and even anglers who favor the fishing grounds around the lodges. Many of those people strongly opposed any effort to trap the animals.

"This is not the same as taking fish out of the lake," said Doreen McLean, a park volunteer and kayaker.

"The beavers are part of the park's atmosphere. You see them swimming and playing in the early morning and at dusk," McLean said.

Others who frequent the park disputed the county's beaver tally, according to Dent.

Dent and several others kayaked on the lake Thursday to count and map beaver lodges. Each lodge would probably house no more than 10 beavers, according to animal experts.

"We counted six lodges and were fairly certain two of them were not active," she said. "That significantly changes the scope of the number."

`Nature rebounds'

Simon said beavers are strongly territorial and will not persist in high numbers in any area.

"You never have a population explosion of beavers," she said. "They move on and the vegetation grows back. There is no permanent damage. Nature rebounds."

The Piney Run Council, a volunteer group, plans to put the beaver question at the top of its agenda for its Nov. 13 meeting, Dent said.

Preventive measures

The park management will also pursue preventive measures that could limit the damage beavers are doing to trees.

Because beavers favor the more valuable hardwood trees, such as oak and hickory, the park staff will look into various methods of deterring the gnawing problem, said Soisson.

Those measures include wrapping the trunks with wire and fence or spraying with textured paint, he said.

"The beavers have a reprieve," Soisson said, adding that it will in all likelihood be a permanent one.

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