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Under pressure, Minneapolis parks board clarifies 'mitigation measures' for animals

Park Board staff say they weren't going to kill the beavers anyway, but after a wave of public pressure, they're making it explicit.

Park Board staff say they weren't going to kill the beavers anyway, but after a wave of public pressure, they're making it explicit. Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

Last month, the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board hired a division of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to sort out “conflicts” between people and wild animals.

Examples of such "conflicts” could include aggressive urban coyotes, or beavers taking down more trees than a particular neighborhood or park would care to lose. The contract lasts three years and is good for up to $50,000. If Parks and Rec doesn’t need the USDA at all, it doesn’t pay a dime.

After the contract was agreed to, the calls and emails started streaming in. Members of the public were worried that Minneapolis was paying the USDA to shoot or trap any beaver that made a nuisance of itself. Language in the contract referenced “kill[ing]” an offending animal.

Parks and Rec staff say that’s fairly standard language for USDA contracts, and more commonly applied to large nuisance animals in wide-open spaces than beavers and coyotes within city limits. There were no plans at the time to kill any animals, anyway.

The feedback kept coming in. According to a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity, the park board received “nearly 200” letters from Minneapolis residents, who displayed “tremendous opposition” to the contract agreement.

The board heard and responded to these complaints. Not by terminating the contract, but amending it. A new resolution passed Wednesday specifies the board will prioritize “all feasible nonlethal mitigation measures” to address any conflicts with wildlife, and that the result of these conflicts will be reported for posterity. The vote was unanimous.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Fur Free Minneapolis, which started rallying public opinion the week the contract was approved, both feel good about the result, according to the press release.

“So many citizens, volunteers, and visitors appreciate and derive deep satisfaction from the wild animals and natural spaces in the Minneapolis park system,” said Matt Johnson of Fur Free Minneapolis. “This resolution to amend the contract with Wildlife Services helps ensure we’re doing a good job at coexisting humanely with other species while keeping our parks safe and welcoming places.”

Jeremy Barrick, the park board’s assistant superintendent of environmental stewardship, knows this is a “sensitive” issue that the public cares about. But he says the new amendment just serves to codify the city’s pre-existing stance on the matter.

“We’re not anti-environment, and we’re not about trapping and killing animals,” he says.

The whole reason they wanted to contract with the USDA, he says, was because parks and rec doesn’t have a wildlife biologist on staff. Before this new arrangement, they just called an independent trapper every time a beaver’s activities became troublesome for the local tree population – which wasn’t that often, but it didn’t feel like the best, most humane solution, either.

It was really the public’s outcry to a different wildlife incident – one involving the killing and disposal of geese living in Loring Park – that pushed the park board to do things differently. Staff wanted to contract with a body driven by animal experts, one which has nothing to gain from killing the animals, and was more transparent than just some guy with a net. Hence the USDA.

Barrick thinks the distance between that conversation and this one probably can’t have helped with how the public perceived the new agreement as a “killing contract.” But he didn’t necessarily “expect” this reaction, either.

You can read the new resolution, and the contract, here.