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  •   One Beaver Trapped at Tidal Basin

    A beaver swims across the Tidal Basin, Jefferson Memorial
    A beaver swims across the Tidal Basin with a mouth full of twigs. (Robb S. Chastain — for The Washington Post)
    By Linda Wheeler
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, April 10, 1999; Page B1

    Trappers hired by the National Park Service got swift results on the banks of the Tidal Basin last night, trapping a big-toothed, furry animal suspected of being one of those that have been chewing into the national stock of flowering cherry trees in the past few days.

    The beaver was caught by members of Adcock's Trapping Service, a suburban Maryland firm brought in yesterday by the Park Service to put a stop to the high-profile attacks on the trees that ring the basin.

    "We're sure it's at least one of the right ones," said Michele Adcock Gann, an office manager for the trapping firm. "We're not sure how many are down there," she said. The beaver was caught about 8:45 p.m., just after dark, with the use of a cage-like device of heavy-gauge wire known as a Hancock trap.

    The beavers, unauthorized tenants in the Tidal Basin, are blamed for the felling of nine trees, including four of the famous flowering cherry trees. Since the discovery of one beaver more than a week ago a second was confirmed two days ago, and a few observers claim to have spotted a third the beavers have caught the attention of residents and tourists who have flocked to the basin to see the rodents.

    "The traps were set sometime this morning," Park Service spokesman Earle Kittleman said yesterday. "We have had lots of calls from people who are worried we will hurt the beavers. We have no intention of hurting them at all."

    The suitcase-shaped traps are made by the Hancock Co. of Custer, S.D., and are considered more humane than others because the beavers are not likely to drown in these traps, which are suspended only partly into the water.

    However, some wildlife experts say the Hancock trap can be very dangerous to children or domestic animals that might step into it, and there are questions about how welcome the beavers would be in another setting already occupied by a beaver colony.

    Army Col. Andrew Angelacci has extensive experience trapping beavers and other wild animals in the Washington area. Although he said the Park Service has a good chance of capturing the beavers, he warned about the danger of the trap.

    "Those traps are safe for the beaver but not for people who might walk into it," he said. "They are powerful enough to break a bone or leave a good bruise."

    The instructions that come with the $250 trap repeatedly warn against placing a hand, head or foot into the trap when setting it.

    Angelacci said no animal would consider any trap humane, and he tends to believe a quick death is better than the uncertain future many of the animals face.

    Robert Colona, state biologist for fur-bearing animals for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said the department has a policy of not removing beavers and other wildlife to new settings because there is no place for them to go. He said he tells people concerned about a wild creature being a pest that they either learn to accommodate it or the state will resolve the problem by killing it for them.

    "For the past 30 years, the beaver population has been growing," he said. "Their numbers were greatly reduced until the 1950s, when some legislative protection was passed. In the 1960s, there was a moratorium on harvesting them, and then the population densities shot up all over the state."

    He said the situation was similar across the country.

    "All the primary habitats got filled up, and then the secondary ones, and now the beavers are colonizing low-level ponds and storm-water systems," he said. "Everything is filled up."

    He said beavers are so prevalent now that the state allows a trapper to take an unlimited number of the rodents during a three-month hunting period.

    The Park Service has not said specifically where it would release the beavers. However, Colona is opposed to relocating wildlife and said the Park Service is making a mistake by even trying it.

    "Relocation is a bad idea," he said. "There are practical and biological reasons against it. First, you are taking your problem and giving it to someone else. Then there is the problem of all the habitats being full. You take an animal and introduce it to an area where there isn't room for it, and beavers being territorial animals, they will attack the new animal. You are sending that animal to its death."

    Colona compares the beaver population to a five-gallon water pail that is full. No matter how much water you add, he said, there isn't room for any more.

    Angelacci said Colona doesn't have it quite right: "What we are talking about here with the beavers is a three-gallon pail with five gallons of water."

    However, Doug and Toop Guyer, of Valley Forge, Pa., said they have the solution.

    Last year, they bought 100 acres in a remote area of northwest New York state, and the beaver pond on the property was empty. "We have been looking for beavers for our pond. We'd love to have the cherry blossom beavers," said Doug Guyer, an advertising executive. "I'll drive down and get them."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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