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Beaver relocation effort garners bipartisan support

Thu., March 1, 2012

A beaver swims in the Spokane River last year. Bills passed by the Legislature Wednesday would permit relocation of nuisance beaver families. (File)
A beaver swims in the Spokane River last year. Bills passed by the Legislature Wednesday would permit relocation of nuisance beaver families. (File)

OLYMPIA – Beavers making a nuisance of themselves in Western Washington could be relocated to areas in Eastern Washington that need their help in damming streams, but the furry critters from Eastern Washington couldn’t be shipped west under a bill approved Wednesday by the Washington Senate.

Seems there are already too many of the tree-chomping rodents west of the Cascades.

The proposal, described by state Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, as a “cute, furry little bill,” allows the Department of Fish and Wildlife to set up a system in which a landowner who wants to recharge groundwater or improve streamflows can request beavers being captured elsewhere as nuisances. It also provided several legislators some much-needed practice on their joke delivery.

It’s not enough that Western Washington sends other nuisances east, groused state Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland; now it wants to send beavers over, too. “If those beavers become liberals and they won’t build any dams, I don’t know how they’re going to survive.”

State Sen. Bob Morton, R-Kettle Falls, tried to inject a bit of seriousness, noting that beavers are “nature’s engineers.” If that’s the case, asked state Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry, R-Moses Lake, will the state make them take continuing education courses and make them subject to Labor and Industries rules?

“Only if we can include domestic partnerships for beavers,” said Ranker.

After senators got over their giggles, the bill passed 49-0, and was sent back to the House, where a slightly different version also unanimously passed.

The bill actually has a serious purpose, as well as a long history, according to sponsor Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda. He and other landowners in northwest Washington were interested in getting relocated beavers several years ago to help recharge their aquifers and capture streamflows, but the Department of Fish and Wildlife said there was no authority for that.

The Legislature overwhelmingly passed a similar bill, minus the regional restrictions, in 2006, but Gov. Chris Gregoire exercised the first full veto of her governorship to kill it because of objections from Fish and Wildlife. Studies were ordered, and several subsequent bills got partway through the Legislature before running out of time.

Since then, the Lands Council has received a grant from the state Department of Ecology to trap and relocate beavers as whole families. Research shows that a single relocated beaver will usually leave its new location to return to its old home and family; a relocated family tends to stay put in the new home. The council will take the lead on the relocations.

The bill also brings environmental groups like the Lands Council together with Kretz, who is not considered the “greenest” of legislators. It should have no trouble getting through the House again, said the Lands Council’s lobbyist, whose name, coincidentally, is Neil Beaver.

Kretz would still like a beaver family for a stream on his property at some point, but the issue has gone beyond that, to improving water conditions in dry parts of the state. “I’m just interested in water retention,” he said.

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