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This article was published 23/6/2017 (1149 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
ASHERN — A certain buck-toothed, flat-tailed national symbol with a waddling gait is wreaking havoc in parts of Manitoba on a scale not seen in a lifetime.
Armies of beaver are penetrating deeper and deeper inland in the Interlake and some other parts of Manitoba, flooding farm fields with their dams and destroying municipal infrastructure such as roads.
"It’s just beaver country like stupid," said Dan Meisner, a councillor with the RM of Grahamdale who is in charge of beaver control. Meisner, who is also a trapper, took out 400 nuisance beavers in one recent spring-summer period alone.
People in the area say there haven’t been beaver in this part of the province since before their grandparents’ day. Meisner remembers finding a stick stripped bare by a beaver and taking it to show-and-tell at school because it was so rare.
In the Interlake, everywhere east of Highway 6 is now infested, Meisner said. The beaver aren’t migrating out of the large lakes such as Lake Manitoba, but from small mud-bottomed lakes such as Sleeve Lake near Ashern.
"We’re in a wet cycle, and these rodents live in water. It’s been the perfect world for them," he said.
Cattleman Kris Barrett has close to 3,000 acres of land near Fisher Branch submerged, despite the dry winter and spring in the Interlake. Some of his land is under as much as three metres of water, overtopping fence posts.
David Gall, also a cattle producer, rented an excavator for $100 an hour to remove a particularly troublesome beaver dam, only to find it rebuilt the next day.
"It’s kind of a pointless venture," Gall said. "The beaver fixed (the dam) and made it bigger. They built it better than the original. It’s amazing what those things can do."
Municipalities surrounding Riding Mountain National Park report a surge in the beaver population, too. The nearby RM of Harrison Park has hired a dedicated beaver trapper who removed 128 of the animals this spring, Reeve Lloyd Ewashko said.
The beaver are coming out of the national park, where they’re protected, and trying to expand their territory, he said.
The province said it has not received an increase in beaver complaints, but could provide no other data on the beaver population.
The province started offering a $15 bounty per beaver three years ago, but RMs regard it as a drop in the bucket. The RM of Grahamdale has tacked on an additional $35 per beaver.
Manitoba also provides up to $750 for removal of a beaver dam, but recommends getting rid of the beaver first or the dam will just be rebuilt.
The problem in the Interlake has been brewing since at least 2003 and progressively getting out of control, landowners said. As the beaver move inland, it’s imperative they build more dams to survive because they need water — they are almost completely defenceless on land. So they block culverts, causing ditch water to backup and flood land.
A flyover (courtesy of Ted Cook) showed a landscape that looked like tattered fabric with water showing through the holes. Beaver lodges — humps of stripped sticks — were everywhere in the pastures.
"You have to remember there used to be cattle on all that land," Cook said.
Large areas of forest were also dead from flooding.
Cattle ranchers in the Interlake rely on leasing large tracts of Crown land from the province for cattle grazing. MLA Derek Johnson (Interlake) said it’s on the Crown lands where "beaver are having a heyday."
But producers report great confusion over what they can or cannot do on Crown pasture to remove the semiaquatic pests.
Johnson said amendments made to the Wildlife Act in 2011 have made it more difficult for landowners to deal with troublesome beavers. To remove a dam, a landowner must receive permission from Manitoba Sustainable Development and provide a legal land description. If it is on Crown land, a Crown land work permit is also required.
"It makes it very clear to remove a dam, a person needs ministerial permission. Back in the old days, you’d just take a tractor and push a dam out. Now, by time you go through all the paperwork, it takes a long time," Johnson said.
"We’re doing what we can to streamline the red tape."
Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler has stated he wants to see cattle numbers double in Manitoba — but that won’t happen with beavers eliminating all the pasture, said Gall.
"I’ve doubled my land base (by picking up Crown pasture leases from farmers who have given up) and cut my cattle numbers by more than half," Gall said. Beavers are also flooding out habitat used by other wildlife in the area, such as deer and elk, he said.
Gall believes the province needs to hire a full-time trapper to address the Interlake’s beaver population woes.
"They’re like rats and they keep populating," he said.
Another factor contributing to the increasing beaver population is fur prices. Prices for beaver started dropping in the 1990s and now it’s not even worthwhile for trappers to sell them, said Meisner. Preparing the pelts is also labour intensive and beavers are not easy to trap.
"Whenever you go to get a beaver, it never lives in a nice place. You’re either going through thick ice or in heavy bush with mosquitoes and bulldogs (horseflies)," Meisner said.
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