When I first moved to Montana, almost a year ago to the day, someone suggested I take my dogs to Harpers Bridge to let them run and enjoy the river. Little did I know I would spend most of this past year going down to this location almost every day? Seeing a place, a wild, but small piece of land bordered by the Clark Fork River is to understand its moods, its beauty. It is a place to watch ducks, to have bald eagles fly by or roost in a nearby tree. Yet, in that time what I have not seen is an otter or a beaver. There have been deer, wild turkey, and tracks of possum and skunk, but no beaver.
About two months ago when I pulled in to a parking space I noticed something different. The trees by the river were felled; there were great piles of debris, limbs cut neatly, and the bank showing the effects of the mighty work underway. Soon in the nearby inlet, I saw what all this work was about, it was the new home of the river cruiser, a beaver. Every day, I have gone back to watch this home take form. The cutting is finished as is the lodge, it is strong, it has many entrances and exits, but the beaver has not shown its face. It has been exciting and wondrous to see this unfold and I have brought friends to join in the excitement.
But like so much of Montana, I noticed a few weeks ago new visitors to Harpers Bridge, trucks showing up, with men inside, avoiding my glance and waiting for me to leave before exiting their vehicles. Last week I called Fish, Wildlife and Parks to ask about the threat of traps at Harpers Bridge. Several days later I received a call, the spokesperson asked if I spent much time there. I said I did, he said: “then you know the beaver has cut down some trees”. Yes, I said, but the result has been great! He said dryly, “that’s why its likely trappers have set up downstream, they want the beaver”.
How is it that people can see an event with such different sets of eyes? The magic of nature in my eyes is the chance to kill a creature in others. This place of special meaning to me is now filled with a sense of grief. When I look at that lodge, I want to scream out, be careful, do not go too far downstream. Let me help you!
The beaver, however, fears me as much as it does all people. Their moves come at night, fear and instinct have driven them away from view. For me now the concern beyond the beaver goes to my dogs, understanding that conibear traps have been laid out, stealing from me the peace and beauty the river has afforded, so that a few sick individuals can find pleasure in destroying the wild spirit that the river offers.
Recently, I spent time with a friend in Bozeman; he said to me “these are my animals too”. His reference to the idea that only trappers have the only voice in wildlife matters and the reality that Fish, Wildlife and Parks concedes to their every wish.
The reality remains, we are the majority, our voice can only be heard when we speak in unison. We must be loud, present and make the case- it is our wildlife too! We want ours alive, we want to spend time on public lands without fear. These are our lands also!
Which takes me back to Harpers Bridge, a new lodge and the sense of hope it gave me and others? Why should we lose again, why should life be destroyed so one man can steal the life that so many others crave to see.
Beavers deserve to live in peace and make the Clark Fork their home. We all deserve the right to watch them live in harmony with the river. It’s time for our voices to be heard.
It’s our wildlife too!