Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

By Joe Albert

Randall, Minn. Gary Johnson and three others stood at the outlet
of Todd County’s Long Lake, watching as knee-deep water moved
steadily out of the lake.

Water moving downstream usually is neither strange nor odd. But
this was different.

“A week ago, there wasn’t water moving out of this culvert,”
said Johnson, former DNR area manager in Little Falls who now works
part-time on the Ducks Unlimited/DNR Cooperative Wild Rice
Enhancement Program.

The reasons for the stopped water were at the feet of trappers
Jerome Otremba and George Fortier, a grandfather, grandson trapping
team. There lay two beavers, both recovered from traps within the
hour. The animals and, more specifically, their associated dams,
stopped water from leaving the lake. With no outlet, any
precipitation would have raised the lake’s water level, and, at the
right time, killed off a wild rice crop important among others to
waterfowl during annual migration.

“The deeper the water you get, the poorer wild rice you get,”
said Rod Ustipak, DU/DNR wild rice coordinator. “(With beaver dams
obstructing water flow) when you get rains, you can’t get rid of
your water.”

Beaver trapping, and subsequent dam destruction and removal, is
part of the DU/DNR partnership aimed to help waterfowl in wild rice
lakes by maintaining the low water levels needed for good crop
production.

Notable for its value as migration habitat for dabbling ducks
such as teal, pintails, and mallards, wild rice also offers
brood-rearing habitat during the summer months. Although wild rice
lakes naturally go through a cycle of crops from bust to bumper,
they’re also at the whim of water levels.

And beaver dams are a common reason for creating water levels
that are artificially high. In addition to blocking water, dams
reduce the natural flushing action in lakes, so the silt that’s
usually washed out builds up in front of the dam and further
reduces the outlet’s capacity.

“You can get a beaver dam on the outlet of a lake ” Ustipak
said, “And you may get sparse wild rice crops or no wild rice
crops.”

In 2004, 109 lakes totaling 27,794 acres from Little Falls to
Bemidji, Two Harbors Fergus Falls were managed for wild rice by
DU/DNR. That’s up from 4,948 acres in 2001, 19,417 acres in 2002,
and 23,030 acres in 2003. The effort is funded by DU, through
grants from the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources, and
through wild rice harvesting license receipts.

“There’s never been such a consistent effort,” Ustipak said.

Additionally, there have been lakes under assessment each year
since 2002. Those lakes move from the “managed” to “assessed”
category when beavers became absent and the outlets are clear.

The assessed lakes are monitored periodically to ensure beavers
haven’t returned.

“Sometimes a new beaver dam at the wrong time, even one that’s
only been there a month, can cause a 50 percent wild rice loss,”
Ustipak said.

The trappers

The majority of the trapping takes place before the end of the
beaver trapping season in mid-May, and then again in the fall. If
there are beaver problems in the summer, they’ll trap then, too,
under a DNR permit.

So far this spring, Otremba and Fortier have trapped seven
beavers from the Long Lake outlet. Even when beavers are removed
from the area, others will come in.

“The first thing they’ll do is fix the dam,” said Otremba, a
trapper since the 1940s.

Each time they’ve trapped beavers from the lake, Otremba and
Fortier also removed part of the dam to restore water flow out of
the lake. And, so far, each time new beavers have moved into the
area.

Otremba has trapped beavers for DU/DNR since the wild rice
project began. As part of the project, he trapped 58 in 2002, 50 in
2003, and 29 last year.

“I think that’s an indication we’re getting on top of the
population, at least locally,” Johnson said.

The trapping

DNR area wildlife managers recommend lakes where they think wild
rice would benefit from having beavers trapped and dams removed.
Trappers are then selected and hired to trap beavers, remove dams,
and monitor the outlets.

DU/DNR then relies upon their expertise to remove the
problem.

“They’re excellent observers of wildlife,” Johnson said. “I
don’t tell them where to trap or where to set I just identify the
problem areas.”

It’s up to the trapper to figure out how best to catch the
beavers.

“The animal tells you where to go,” Otremba said. “He always
leaves a sign.”

At Long Lake, the beavers were swimming upstream, so Otremba
placed a conibear trap under a log in the water, and a leghold trap
a few yards away where beavers were crossing on dry land.

Despite increased trapping as a result of the wild rice program,
the state’s beaver population is at an all-time high, in part
because of relatively low fur prices, Ustipak said.

“There just isn’t the trapping pressure there once was,
especially on those remote locations,” Ustipak said.

Editor’s note: Have a “Road Trip” story idea for Staff Writer
Joe Albert? Call (763) 546-4251 or drop him an email at
joe@outdoornews.com

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