By Ray Van Dusen/Monroe Journal
Mr. Jerry Cantrell once made mention how a swampy area on both sides of Burr Road used to be bone dry. On the last day of non-resident trapping season, Philip Engle of Montana admits that area was the year’s hotspot, netting 15 beavers.
Engle joined friends Dave Eckels and Dan Weiss, both of Pennsylvania, for the better part of February to roam around Mississippi trapping the nuisance animal. It’s an annual vacation the friends have made for nine years running.
“We talked years ago and said it would really be nice to trap somewhere warmer since everything is ice in Montana in the winter. Since all water flows south, I started to call timber companies in Mississippi and happened to talk to Kit Hart with Plum Creek Timber Company, who owns Hartwood [tree plantation] just north of Aberdeen and the rest is history,” Engle said.
Every day the three were in Monroe County, they probably set 40 to 50 beaver traps each day and collect most the following day. It’s a grueling routine that starts at 7 a.m. and typically ends at 7 p.m. with the rest of the night skinning the day’s catch.
“Some nights, we may stay up until midnight skinning. We don’t waste a thing with the beavers. We may get a buck for this and a buck for that so we really get $3 per beaver. The landowners are happy to have them off their land and we’re happy just having fun trapping,” Engle said.
Some southern beavers are known as hatters because their fur is used for Stetson hats and others have fur used for coat collars. Scent glands from beavers are even used as ingredients for some perfumes. Any beaver not sold for meat locally is taken back to be sold in the Canadian auction market.
The numbers behind it
For each beaver trapped, the group charges $25 and people are refunded $12.50 for the tails.
According to Natural Resources Conservation Service district clerk Ronda Garcia, Monroe County is one of eight counties left in the state still participating in the beaver tail bounty program.
“Our county board of supervisors fund every bit of it. My soil and water district board helps me figure the budget each year and we usually start with asking for $5,000, but some years we’ve had to request $10,000 and the supervisors have always come through,” Garcia said.
The soil and water district board is comprised of chairman George Watson, vice chairman Fred Stevens, treasurer Lee Davidson, Steve Cantrell and Hank Harrington.
The bounty limits 40 tails per person each year and eligible candidates must be Monroe County landowners.
In Garcia’s 13 years in working with the conservation service, the department has paid $86,000 worth of bounty for beaver tails.
Funding used to come from federal government’s Beaver Control Assistance Program, but funding was cut last year. The board of supervisors moves money from its general fund provided by the United States Department of Agriculture. The county’s road department pays the trappers $15 per beaver through the road department fund and the bounty reward goes right back into its fund.
“We’re only paying $2.50 to get rid of a beaver, which can save a lot of money downrange. If beavers plug up a culvert, it can shut down a drainage system if there are imperfections, which could blow a road out,” said road manager Sonny Clay.
Clay said with smaller culverts where there isn’t as much water pressure, flooding can be a problem. With larger six-foot culverts, damage costs could be $3,000. All in all, driver safety is the biggest factor in beaver control.
Tombigbee River Water Management District also plays a huge asset in providing funding for the bounty program.
By instinct, beavers flood areas to protect themselves from predators and to provide buffer zones for their food.
“Because of the river coming through and the bottomland, it’s taken years to manage the county’s beaver problem on our right of ways. With the spring rains, we have certain roadways where we usually have flooding problems,” Clay said.
Lowndes and Itawamba counties share the same beaver woes as well because of the Tenn-Tom Waterway. Monroe County has tried to remedy the beaver problems by netting box culverts to help compliment the work trappers do.
“Beavers eating trees isn’t as much of a problem as it is having them plug up culverts and flooding areas. Nutria rats do as much damage. Beavers build dams so water can at least flow through, but nutria rats plug those up,” Engle said.
“Flooding out areas where pines grow and eventually killing them is the worst damage we’ve seen. With beaver problems, you can take a dry area and five or 10 years later have a swamp,” Eckels said.
The two agreed south Monroe County is the most concentrated area with beaver problems in the places they’ve been in the state which includes Vicksburg, Goodman and Clarksdale.
“If two beavers are going to be in an area, there will eventually be 12 or 13, but we’ve had a lot of success through the years. In some places we’ll set traps and not have to go back for a couple of years,” Eckels said.
Clay said Becker Bottom, the areas around the Aberdeen Marina and areas south of Hamilton have the biggest beaver populations.
At the close of their February Mississippi trip, the trappers eradicated more than 180 beavers. In 2011, the three trapped 262 beavers in different places throughout the state during their busiest year.
Monroe County has local trappers and the out-of-state trappers admit if they see evidence of someone else’s trap, they don’t overstep their boundaries.
“Ed Payne is a local person who has worked with this program, but with all the beavers, it’s hard for just a few people to eliminate all of them.
When I was young, I saw a lot of people trapping, but hardly anybody does it anymore,” Clay said.