Not far from downtown Bangor, along Kenduskeag Avenue, a stretch of woods and a pond offer a break in the busy chain of houses and yards. It’s a peaceful spot. These past two months, it also has been the site of a war.
The seed of conflict was planted more than a year ago when several unassuming beavers moved into the pond and went to work on their new home. The neighbors loved it. So did local trappers. Thus ensued the war.
It’s a small-scale battle, but it has led to one man breaking the law; another is considering moving back to Washington County.
In the past two months, Dave Georgia, a warden with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, has found himself in the middle of the conflict that began for him with a criminal summons and ended with residents posting orange no-trespassing’ signs on land they didn’t own.
“I wish they’d let me handle it,” Georgia said wearily this week.
Dr. Geoffrey Gratwick, a Bangor rheumatologist and 11-year resident of outer Kenduskeag Avenue, led the charge to save the beavers – and broke the law by removing two beaver traps, a criminal action that cost him $238 in Bangor District Court.
Gratwick says it’s the beaver lovers who were robbed.
“It started as a story of how, if people band together, they can preserve a local resource,”
Gratwick said. “I’m not against trapping. But this is a miscarriage of justice. Is his right to trap greater than our right to preserve our neighborhood? For someone in an urban area to trap our neighborhood friends, that’s despicable.”
Mark Czarnecki is the trapper who found himself embroiled in a fight he didn’t expect when Gratwick took his two traps.
“I don’t fool with that guy’s activities. Why does he have to fool with mine? I’m about ready to go home,” said Czarnecki, whose job with the city water district brought him from Township 21 in eastern Washington County to Old Town three years ago. “It’s a different world here than it is there. It’s a real different world.”
What ensued has been a fight over the beavers, and the issue of whether the pond that abuts Kenduskeag Avenue belongs to the public or to Bud Grant, the landowner and former hunter. He complicated the whole affair by not taking sides.
“I told them if they wanted to see beavers, post the land,” Grant said. “You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.”
Grant, who owns 400-500 acres, said he has seen his land flood because of beavers, so he understands the need to harvest the population. But he also doesn’t care for conflict.
When Gratwick went to him and threatened a neighborhood petition to save the beavers, Grant let Gratwick post Grant’s land without checking with authorities. Gratwick and a neighbor did so last week, only to find out from Georgia that, because the pond, which is less than an acre in size, sits next to the road, it’s open to the public and cannot be denied to trappers.
Gratwick was disgusted, saying the beavers are a treasure to local children.
His neighbor, Deb Tripplehorn, said her two children, ages 3 and 7, have not seen beavers anywhere else in Maine.
“There are strong feelings on both sides,” Tripplehorn said. “From our perspective, it’s wonderful for them to see the animals out in their natural habitat, even if it’s next to the road.”
Czarnecki said if parents want to show their children wildlife, they should go out into the wilderness.
A trapper for two decades, Czarnecki said he traps enough to cover the cost of his $33 license and his two traps, which cost $20 each. Beyond that, he said, he does it for exercise and to see wildlife. The pelts bring him about $20 each.
Czarnecki said the beaver dam on Kenduskeag was an “easy one,” but mostly he hikes on snowshoes into the woods, to places snowmobiles can’t go.
Ironically, he gave the same reason for trapping that Gratwick gave for wanting to preserve the beavers.
“It’s wonderful to watch wildlife,” Czarnecki said. “Nothing on the beaver is wasted. I feed the eagles with what’s left. I feed fox. My wife and I take pictures. People don’t realize how much beauty is in nature.”
Within city limits, however, that beauty can cause problems.
Georgia said beavers can do extensive damage, such as the erosion that occurred a few years ago under a railroad bed in Veazie, where beavers had built a dam and an engine crashed.
“There’s a reason people say, ‘busy as a beaver.’ You can take the dam out if it’s flooding a guy’s land or road, but what happens? You never wipe them out,” Georgia said. “You go back 10 years, you’ll find complaints in the same area.”
Georgia also attributed the spread of rabies to the decreased interest in trapping.
“It’s deeper than this little story,” he said.
On Thursday, Gratwick thought the story had ended.
Two days earlier, trapper Sean McCue of Bangor came and took out of the pond three dead beavers he had trapped.
“It turns out the law in Maine favors the trapper,” said Gratwick who was raised in Connecticut. “I was conceived here and have lived here for 25 years. The whole question is do you get to be involved in what’s going on in your back yard.
“One man’s blind selfishness has done violence to our small community,” he said.
Georgia said the story is not over because, given the size of the beaver house, four to six beavers remain.
McCue said that, while he wouldn’t be back to trap there this year, he might next year.
“It’s not like I’m going to trap every beaver in Bangor,” McCue said. “But I do it for enjoyment, and to show my son. He’s 4, and at that site he doesn’t have to walk far. It’s easy for him to learn.”
For Georgia, the Bangor beaver story has a lesson, one that goes beyond the fight over ponds, posted land or furry friends.
“The law doesn’t favor anybody,” he said. “If a licensed trapper abides by all the regulations, then legally they have all the right to pursue that heritage. Somebody can’t just come in and push their views on somebody. ”
To be sure, the story of wildlife watchers vs. trappers is an old one, but one that will be played out increasingly in Maine as urban sprawl continues and populations of beavers and other wild animals grow.
Because of the decline in the fur market in the 1980s, however, there are far fewer trappers today than 20 years ago. In Maine, the number has dropped from 5,000 to 2,000. As a result, the nearly 10,000 beavers that were trapped last year were almost 7,000 fewer than the harvest from three years earlier, according to DIF&W records.
Deirdre Fleming covers outdoors sports and recreation. She can be reached at 990-8250 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.