City of Madison Parks Division
A tree at Warner Park gnawed by beavers.
The Madison parks division has abruptly removed all beaver traps from Warner Park after outraged residents began yanking the traps without city authorization late last week.
“This type of action presents significant safety risks to the person removing the traps,” wrote parks superintendent Eric Knepp in an email to city officials. “As always, we consider the totality of the circumstances in our decision-making related to wildlife management in our parks, and in this case the potential safety risks outweigh the benefit.”
While she doesn't condone residents “taking matters into their own hands,” retired Madison police detective Sara Petzold is relieved the beaver traps have been removed from Warner Park. Petzold lives near Warner and visits it frequently with her giant schnauzer, Milo. On a recent walk, she spotted a truck with the license plate “ITRAP.”
“First thing I thought was, ‘Uh oh,’” says Petzold.
The retired detective then learned the truck belonged to a trapper contracted with the city to remove beavers. He told her that he was placing traps near the underwater entryways to the beavers’ lodge.
“I asked if he was trapping to relocate the beavers or kill them. He said, ‘Some of them are over 70 pounds and it's really hard to find a place to put them,’” says Petzold. “He then told me the traps hold the beavers underwater until they asphyxiate. It was disturbing to me that the city was essentially drowning beavers without any notice to residents.”
The animal rights group PETA has also contacted the city about its beaver trapping policy. Kent Stein, a member of the group’s “emergency response team,” sent an email to Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, Common Council members and Knepp urging them to forgo trapping in favor of other methods to mitigate potential damage caused by beavers.
“Please understand that death by drowning is a terrifying and exceptionally painful ordeal (beavers can take up to 15 minutes simply to lose consciousness),” Stein wrote to officials. “Successful long-term wildlife control requires targeting the environment (vs. the animal) by making it unappealing and/or inaccessible to unwanted species. Examples of this for beavers include curtailing access to food sources by spraying tree trunks with [repellents], coating trunks with latex paint, or 'caging' trunks with three foot high wire mesh/hardware cloth offset by at least 10 inches to prevent gnawing.”
Petzold says the parks division’s decision to remove the traps because of “safety risks” is proof that the city should have told the public what it was doing.
“As far I know, the neighborhood and the Wild Warner group were not notified. Considering the number of dogs that go swimming in the lagoon, I was worried that a dog could have been hurt or killed,” says Petzold. “In the parks division's subsequent response to all this, they acknowledge that the traps are dangerous. That’s even further reason they should have made this known to residents.”
Knepp declined to comment on April 2 about the city’s trapping efforts. Ann Shea, public information officer for the parks division, also declined on March 30 to answer questions.
But in an emailed "response," Shea explains that a resident recently alerted the city to beaver activity “in and around the Warner lagoon.” She says staff inspected the area and noticed that more than a dozen trees had “irreparable damage or had recently fallen due to damage.” She confirms a licensed trapper with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources was brought in “only to the extent necessary to mitigate the hazards of tree death, shoreline damage, and flooding.”
“In assessing the trees and shoreline, staff determined that the damage was recent and caused by beavers. Staff also determined that a number of trees that had not fallen would need to be removed as they were in a hazardous condition and location for dogs and people using the park,” Shea writes. “In addition to the tree damage, beavers often build dams near the outlet structure to Lake Mendota from the lagoon. This will create flooding across the park, especially during large rain events, and could alter the land use over the intermediate term by raising the water level of the lagoon.”
Shea says the raised water level may also contribute to the anoxic conditions of the lagoon by limiting the flow to the lake which increases the likelihood of a large scale fish die off. In response to inquiries about “drowning traps,” Shea responds: “The Wisconsin DNR does not recommend live trapping and relocating of beavers. If a live trap was used, the beaver would still likely be euthanized.”
However, Petzold says the parks division has yet to provide evidence to justify its “covert trapping policy.”
“I think we need to look at the benefits of having beavers at Warner Park, the negatives and, as a city, find the right balance,” says Petzold. “I have not seen any indication that parks has really undertaken any of those analyses. That’s what concerns me the most. This could have easily flown under the radar and we’d have no idea why the beavers were gone.”
But in his email to city officials, Knepp defends his division’s efforts to trap beavers at Warner Park.
“Our wildlife management practices are rooted in years of knowledge and experience from professional staff of the specific locations and issues involved. Trapping is a very limited method that is only authorized in specific situations and within Wisconsin DNR guidelines and regulations,” says Knepp. “We do not pursue this as an option without consideration of alternatives. Parks is willing to have any or all of our wildlife management practices reviewed should that be the desire of our policymakers.”