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Beaver problem prompts special nuisance trapping season in Hubbard County

One of the beavers that has been plaguing a Lake Peysenske outlet was busy gathering debris to plug the county culvert that has been choked off on a daily basis by beavers attempting to build a dam. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 2
This is the County Road 11 inlet after a typical night of beaver activity. The dried piles are the brush that has been removed lately. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 2

A den of Mother Nature's earthmovers has been wreaking havoc on an area lake.

Their days are numbered.

A chronic beaver problem damming up the freshwater inlet to Peysenske Lake has prompted Hubbard County DNR conservation officer Samantha Hunter to issue a special nuisance 10-day trapping season.

It's been a four decades long struggle for the small lake association, numbering less than 30 homeowners. This year it reached critical mass.

In the past, frustrated homeowners armed themselves against the persistent threat to their lake's water quality and went on midnight shooting parties.

"Citizens shouldn't have to break the law" to get government to step in, said lake resident John Clauer.

Beavers have persistently plugged up an outlet under County Road 11 leading into the lake east of Park Rapids. The problems got worse when the county placed a new outlet a few years ago under the newly paved roadway leading south from the Dorset corner on Highway 34.

Peysenske residents sued. The long and short of the lawsuit was "no harm no foul." The court found that while the outlet wasn't in the right place, it hadn't irreparably harmed the residents so they could not collect damages or force the county to lower it.

But the higher outlet, which frequently dries out and only replenishes the lake during rainy summers, now seems prime ground zero for a large beaver population in the middle section of Peysenske Lake on the east side of the roadway.

A colony of beavers begins bringing branches, weeds and underbrush up to the outlet by dusk. By dawn the outlet has been choked off.

Because Peysenske doesn't have any other inlets or outlets, it's a cause of concern. Water gets stagnant, fish die and the lake suffers, residents say.

"It's their nature to keep coming back," Clauer said of the beavers. "There's 100,000 cubic feet of water running through that culvert a day but it's plugged 50 percent of the time."

The spring fed water from the Belle Taine watershed is necessary to replenish the lake's healthy water level from evaporation during the hot summer days.

Lake association officials met with Hunter Saturday and county officials this week to pin responsibility on one or both governmental entities.

They came away frustrated.

Whose responsibility is it to keep a county outlet in working order, the residents wonder.

And isn't it illegal to obstruct a state waterway?

"I can't go out and arrest a beaver," Hunter told the lake residents. It's illegal for humans to obstruct a waterway, but animals are something else. And the DNR isn't responsible for the county's culvert plugging up, she said,

"No one wants responsibility," Clauer said. "Now the residents are left holding the bag. It's our financial responsibility to clean the county's culvert?" he asked.

Hubbard County road maintenance foreman Herb McCormick has had his crews cleaning the outlet two days a week until the trappers can get to work, but road crews have numerous other responsibilities, he told the Peysenske residents.

County Engineer Dave Olsonawski called the lake residents this week to say the county would pay for the trapping, an expense lakeshore residents didn't think they should be responsible for. Lakeshore residents have signed up to clean the outlet the remaining five days of the week.

Because the outlet is under county right-of-way, a previous DNR CO issued a shooting permit only for county employees to eradicate the beavers.

"We've shot seven or eight of them" this spring, McCormick said, adding he has no clue how many are living in dams on the middle and east sections of the lake.

But shooting wasn't the answer, Hunter said. "I don't like people shooting across water at night," she said.

Bullets can ricochet off water, she said. Some residents complained that dead reeking beaver carcasses washed up on their beaches. No one wanted responsibility to clean up the mess.

The trapping season "is only a temporary solution," Clauer said. "The problem is that we're going to fight this every year."

It's a fight going on around numerous other lakes, Hunter said, warning that county and/or DNR involvement could backfire.

"Everybody will want the county" (and DNR) to eradicate nuisance problems, Hunter explained, adding, "you chose to live on a lake. Every lake has beavers."

"We've chosen to live on the lake but we pay heavy duty taxes to live there," said lake association president Les Hagemeyer.

Residents remember the good old days when the dam was dynamited. That's now illegal and even objectionable to the residents who want the beavers eliminated.

No one puts bounties on beavers anymore, Hunter said. Government doesn't have the funds.

And, because this isn't prime trapping time because beavers' coats haven't thickened yet to be worth anything, it might be hard to get someone to do the job, Hunter told the residents.

Clauer said the temporary trapping season doesn't address the larger issue.

"All we want is someone to raise your right hand and say, 'I own this responsibility.'"

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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