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The Great Lakes region is blessed with an abundance of water. But water quality, affordability, and aging water infrastructure are vulnerabilities that have been ignored for far too long. In this series, members of the Great Lakes News Collaborative, Michigan Public, Bridge Michigan, Great Lakes Now, The Narwhal, and Circle of Blue, explore what it might take to preserve and protect this precious resource. This independent journalism is supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

Environmental group to sue USDA over thousands of beavers being killed in Wisconsin's trout streams

A beaver with a willow branch.
Steve Hillebrand
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
A beaver with a willow branch.

A Wisconsin-based environmental group has notified the U.S. Department of Agriculture it plans to file a lawsuit against the agency. Superior Bio-Conservancy says the USDA is funding Wisconsin’s program of killing beavers based on faulty beliefs.

“The Fisheries Department in Wisconsin has this dogma or belief that they're damaging trout streams, which is not true, and there's no science to uphold it,” said Bob Boucher, the president of the organization.

In a decade the Wisconsin DNR has killed more than 28,000 beavers, destroyed nearly 15,000 beaver dams, and accidentally trapped and killed more than 1,000 river otters because the traps being used are indiscriminant.

The DNR said when it creates habitat along streams for trout, it attracts beavers which use some of the plantings to build dams and cause flooding.

“Trout stream protection takes precedent over protection of beaver on high quality trout streams,” the agency said in its policy.

Boucher said the Wisconsin DNR is continuing to pursue the beaver elimination program.

“They're spending about half a million dollars, just over I think it's $503,000, is scheduled and set aside in the budget for 2023 to slaughter beavers on streams.”

The DNR gets money from the USDA’s timber harvests and other sources. It also gets assistance from the USDA’s wildlife services to trap beavers and remove their dams from the area.

Wisconsin also allows private land owners to trap beaver and hire experts to use explosives to blow up beaver dams. Those kills are in addition to the DNR's kills. Wisconsin, like Michigan, considers the beaver to be a nuisance species.

In an emailed statement, the USDA’s National Press Officer, said “Because this issue is pending litigation, it would be inappropriate for us to comment on it at this time.”

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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