Ryan Demchynski came up with the idea for Saskatchewan’s first beaver derby when he saw dead beavers lying in ditches and fields and floating on sloughs.
However, the derby, which ran from April 1 to May 10, has raised questions about the effectiveness of such events.
Demchynski has been a hunter and trapper for most of his life, so he knew the dead animals he was seeing were likely problem beavers trapped or hunted by landowners, who would then remove the tails and collect a bounty from the municipality. Still, it bothered him to see the bodies left to rot.
Demchynski hoped that individuals who had already hunted or trapped problem beavers and collected the bounty would enter the derby, thus removing the beaver carcasses from the landscape.
Participants could enter for $25. Cash prizes were awarded for the biggest beaver, as well as for the total weight in beavers harvested by one individual.
Demchynski skins and markets the beaver pelts, and also removes and markets the castors, or scent glands, which are used in making perfumes and in food products. The beaver carcasses will be sold for hunting bait and lures.
Under Saskatchewan’s Beaver Control Program (BCP) funded by the provincial agriculture ministry and administered by the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, people who are registered for the BCP can turn in the tail and receive a bounty when they shoot or trap a problem beaver.
The province reimburses $15 per adult problem beaver to each RM or First Nation that pays the same amount or more to participants. This means trappers or hunters can collect at least $30 per beaver tail.
Demchynski saw his beaver derby as an enhancement of the existing control program. Twenty-one participants brought in slightly more than 600 beavers, the largest of which was 83.4 pounds.
Several RMs didn’t support the derby. Some objected because they thought Demchynski was paying for beavers entered in the derby, which would mean individuals could be paid twice for the same beaver. Others balked because he wasn’t paying for the beavers and felt he was benefitting from the efforts of others.
A Vancouver-based animal rights group, Fur Bearer Defenders, also objected to the derby, saying it did not conform to a reasonable management policy, said spokesperson Michael Howie.
He said he understands the frustration felt by landowners, but the derby sent the wrong message.
“The bottom line is the statement being put out to the public is the more beavers you kill, the more money you might make, the better the odds are for a prize, turning it into literally a blood sport.”
Fur Bearer Defenders also maintain that beaver populations can be managed by natural predators and the use of physical deterrents:
- wrapping trees in galvanized tin or wire to prevent beaver access
- flow devices, which allow water flow to continue or prevent damming at specific locations
- culvert gates designed to prevent beavers from blocking them
Demchynski said flow control devices work in places with deep water and hard bottoms, but they can cause suffering for beavers in cold weather.
“Going into winter with too shallow water means you freeze the beavers out … a horrible, ugly death in the middle of winter due to starvation. Beavers are building that dam for a reason, not just because they feel like it. They need that much water to survive.”
Mike Gollop, a problem wildlife specialist with Saskatchewan Environment, said the devices designed to prevent culvert blockage have their place, but they are not usually effective in Saskatchewan.
“The ministry of highways has used various techniques like that for a long time and, like any technique, if they were 100 percent effective, that’s what everybody would do. They’re just not, and a lot of the problems occurring with beavers are not in culverts, necessarily. They’re further up the stream, and it’s the back-flooding that is more of an issue.”
Darrell Crabbe, executive director of the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, said his organization doesn’t generally support derbies.
“But like gophers, deer or snow geese right now, we have a huge overpopulation that is putting other species at risk. I think that sometimes derbies have to occur because there’s no incentive otherwise to go out and harvest those animals. In a perfect world, I would hope we wouldn’t have to go that route.”