A newly proposed bill would implement new management standards for Wisconsin’s beaver and muskrat populations.
The bill, proposed by State Rep. James Edming – a Republican from Glen Flora in the Northwoods – would permit state and municipal agents to gun down beavers and muskrats within fifty feet of a road. Under current state law, discharging a firearm within fifty feet of the center of a road is not allowed.
The bill stipulates that the rodents can only be fired on if the animals are actively damaging roadways — and it’s a response to the damage beavers and muskrats can cause to public infrastructure.
Beavers have a tendency to dam road culverts, small structures that allow water to pass under roadways to prevent flooding. Similarly, muskrats can burrow under roads, undermining structural stability.
The Department of Natural Resources, which offered input on the proposed bill, already has several methods for killing or removing the critters — including trapping and deterrent measures. Per the proposed law change, the bill would leave the decision on whether or not to shoot or trap to the DNR.
Brad Koele, a wildlife damage specialist with the Wisconsin DNR, says managing beavers in particular is a challenging dilemma.
He says the DNR faces a difficult balancing act when weighing the wellbeing of Wisconsin’s beavers with the physical integrity of the state’s infrastructure.
“Currently, it is an ongoing effort and an annual effort to remove beavers from these areas,” Koele says. “If it was back on a pond or stream or something like that, it wouldn’t be of concern. But where this legislation addresses — right by the roadways — there’s a concern for human health and safety if that roadway were to become damaged.”
This isn’t the first time this proposal has been floated. A previous, almost identical bill passed the state assembly last session, but hit a proverbial dam in the river when COVID-19 cancelled the final senate floor session of the year — leaving the bill dead on the floor.
Despite the shenanigans beavers can cause while following their instinctive drive to dam, there are countless advocacy groups that lobby for the once nearly-extinct species.
The war over beavers hit Madison in the spring of 2017, when the city set beaver traps in Warner Park to capture the rodents. That effort generated what one alder described as a “tremendous volume of emails” and resulted in some of the traps being stolen.
Amid the intense public backlash, the city conceded and removed the traps.
Beavers were once hunted to near extinction, and America’s largest rodents have largely failed to regain their native territories.
According to a 2014 population report by the DNR, beaver colonies in the northern third of the state are estimated to have dropped by at least half from 1995 to 2008. But between 2008 and 2014, the DNR estimates that the beaver population began to stabilize.
According to a separate DNR trapping survey, published in 2020, beaver populations may actually be increasing in all of the state’s beaver management zones. But those findings are based on surveys of the state’s beaver trappers and their opinions on Wisconsin’s beaver populations.
The wildlife management bill was circulating for co-sponsorship until noon today.
(PHOTO: Tim Umphreys / UNSPLASH)