Sunday, April 16, 2006

PONTOON BEACH, Ill. (AP) — At first, Charles Luehmann considered the beavers cute, with their whiskers, buckteeth and flat tails. But it wasn’t long before he found nothing endearing about the animals’ dams, ruggedly engineered of hundreds of his trees they methodically toppled.

“I’ve got about 210 acres. About half is timber, and about half the timber is dead,” Mr. Luehmann, 77, said of the furry squatters’ heavy toll on his oaks, persimmons, hickories and walnut trees.

So when the mud-packed blockages — often so sturdy it takes backhoes and blasts to undo them — flooded swaths of his land, a fed-up Mr. Luehmann did what many are doing: He hired a trapper to eliminate the unwanted critters.

As the beaver population rises in Illinois and across the nation, so-called “nuisance” trappers are making a decent dime deploying devices that drown the beavers or snap their necks. Such beaver hunters are clearing anywhere from $30 to more than $200 for each grievance call from vexed landowners.

Though there are no firm numbers, the editor of the National Trappers Association’s official magazine said he thinks the ranks of nuisance trappers has doubled or tripled in the past five years. “It’s a pretty good industry — just open your Yellow Pages,” Tom Krause said.

During Illinois’ legal trapping season, the harvest can fluctuate with fur prices. But the paltry price for a pelt these days — generally about $10 — isn’t worth the effort of harvesting it to many trappers, who often must slog with traps and lures through mud up to their knees and water up to the chest, then lug out a beaver that can weigh up to 60 pounds for a pelt that can take hours to render.

“The work that’s involved is incredible,” said Ken Staley, a Maryville man who with his 15-year-old son, Nick, recently earned $3,000 from Illinois’ Madison County and a township to remove nuisance beavers at $30 a head.

Because those beavers were taken during the hunting season, Mr. Staley, 49, owner of a window-coverings business by day, kept about 30 to 40 of the larger pelts and plans to have them tanned. He sold many of the rest, averaging about $11 apiece. Beaver meat is edible, said to taste a bit like roast beef. The sweet-smelling contents of the animal’s castor sacks are used in making high-end perfumes, and their liver is good catfish bait.

But beavers killed as nuisances outside of Illinois’ hunting season are of no value to the trappers, who by law must incinerate or bury the carcasses.

“If I could do it for a living, I would,” said Gary Thompson, a full-time Illinois farmer who has supplemented his income with a wildlife nuisance-control service for about 10 years.

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