Not for the Faint of Heart by Charles Herriot

This article is republished from the Landowner magazine.

My war with the beavers started peaceably enough. “Shoo beavers, shoo,” I admonished as they built their first dam at the edge of our property. As the waters backed up behind their dam I tried to exercise Biblical restraint, “parting the waters like Moses” by clawing their dam apart night after night. The beavers, heretics that they were, were unmoved by my efforts and moved in their own reinforcements. Their single dam became two dams and their simple lodge became a monstrous pile in the midst of a growing lake.

Unfortunately, the floodwaters were starting to encroach on a plantation of 5,000 white pine trees which I had started from seedlings as a teenager. Knowing that our present system of laws carried severe penalties for harming Canada’s national rodent, I made the mistake of calling the Ministry of Natural Resources for permission to deal with the beavers.

A whole vanful of MNR Great Minds showed up at the farm for a hip-wading tour of the expanding beaver swamp. They wanted to be sure that all available attempts at accommodating had been made with the beavers. By the way they talked in studied bureaucrateze, I had a sense that I would be compelled to go to binding arbitration with the beavers with a result that I would be asked to do their dam repairs while they enjoyed Statutory Holidays. “Our mandate is to protect and preserve wild life,” offered one unapologetic MNR factotum.

“What about trees?,” I asked, “Aren’t they a kind of wild life worthy of protection?” The beavers are ruining my tree plantation. I tried to appeal to the MNR’s sense of their own self-preservation by mentioning that every year, I filled out the entire forty two page, “Private Woodlot Management Plan” and sent it in triplicate to the MNR – providing, I assume, thousands of man hours of employment.

“Just fence in your trees,” suggested one MNR cretin who didn’t understand the concept that the danger to the trees was drowning, not being chewed apart. After weeks of correspondence – mostly one way from me to MNR, I was visited by another high level delegation of MNR geniuses who finally allowed that I could “cull” the beavers but only if I got a licensed trapper to do the work.

Of course, licensed trappers are something of a rarity in this part of the world. In fact, non-existent. So I filled out another fifteen forms in triplicate and applied to become a licensed trapper. Down to Huntsville I went for my approved “All the donuts you can eat, Officially Approved Trapper Licensing School” course and with it, a sincere promise not to humiliate any beavers in my trapping endeavors. I had to return to Huntsville with an armful of connibear traps to have them all etched with my Official Trapper Permit number.

Upon setting the traps, and calling for the requisite MNR Official Trapper Inspection, I ran into trouble. Apparently, I made the mistake of setting the traps in the water. “This just won’t do. It won’t do at all,” said the MNR lordling. “You see here, you see? You’ve got these traps in the water. What if the beavers drown?”

Okay, try to imagine being floored by a rhetorical question like this while you are hip deep in a swamp. “Drown?”, I asked feebly.

“Ayep,” said this official, “Drown, and we can’t have that now, can we?” he demanded.

“Why?” I asked and waited for his answer. “Inhumane isn’t it”, he bellowed and demanded to see my Trapper’s License. With bold strokes, he wrote: “SUSPENDED” on my license, gathered up my traps, and drove off.

I would have quietly acceded the war to the beavers had not one of the local police sergeants phoned me one evening. “We see that you’re a licensed trapper and we have a beaver problem out at the hydro sub-station.” At first I was flattered, thinking that I must be in an all-important “Trappers” database but I had to concede that I was a mere relic of my former licensed trapper glory and that I had been busted down in rank.

After explaining all about my sad decline as a licensed trapper, the police sergeant allowed that it “was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard.” This proved conclusively that he’d never had any previous dealings with MNR. He offered to deal with my beaver problem. Feeling already criminalized by my trapper’s license disaster, I agreed. The next night, the police sergeant and two of his friends from a police force arrived with an impressive array of armaments.

I am pleased to report that no beavers were inhumanely drowned as the police blazed away, first with their side arms, and next with their pump-action shotguns, and finally with a semi-automatic M16 variant. Alas, the score was Police: 0, Beavers 1. (One officer cut his finger on the ammunition clip.) No beavers received a scratch.

My war with the beavers was losing momentum when I read an MNR brochure that advised me that I could obtain “a problem animal relocation permit.” I filled out all the requisite forms, hoping that I wouldn’t have to return to Huntsville for an “Animal Relocation Course” where my name and mugshot were surely up on the lunchroom walls by now.

I got my permit giving me the right to “relocate problem animals.” That’s just what I did. I relocated them. Trouble was, the neighbours complained the next morning about the loud explosions they’d heard on my property the night before. It only took a day for the MNR to arrive in force and look very, very, very unhappy at the perfectly drained swamp punctuated by 4 meter craters where the beaver dams and houses used to be.

“Wanna tell me what happened here?” asked the lead MNR investigative sleuth in his Colombo voice.

“I relocated the beavers.” I offered, trying to be helpful. “I have a permit,” I added to insure that they understood that I wasn’t a criminal beaver relocator or anything.

“Where did you relocate them to?” asked the MNR Mensa candidate. “Up,” I answered, pointing at the sky. “Whaddya mean, Up?” he responded.

“Just like I said” I answered. “Says right here I am allowed to relocate the beavers. I did. Says on the permit I can move them away from the area where they are causing damage. I did that too. I relocated them up there,” I said while again pointing at the sky. “They’re in beaver heaven now, I’m sure.”

Anyway, we sat and argued for most of the morning whether my use of 14 sticks of dynamite and blowing the beavers all to hell was really in the spirit intended by a relocating permit but luckily they couldn’t find any usable shreds of beaver upon which to build a violation charge so they let me off with a basic tongue lashing. The MNR guy warned me that if I ever applied for a hunting license I’d have difficulty because, he threatened, “we won’t forget this.”

The best part of the encounter was when we got back to where we parked the vehicles. The MNR truck was hopelessly sunk to the axles in swamp muck. When the MNR guys asked me to hook up a chain to my truck and get them dislodged I shook my head. “You can’t trick me” I replied. I know the rules! I can’t do anything around here without a permit and my relocation permit says, “For Beavers Only”.