"wright hand fork"
They rode up the right side "main stream"—Landers Fork—and up the left side of Alice Creek, which is pictured above. The narrow bottoms were "covered with low willow and grass." It still looks very much the way it would have 200 years ago. To stay out of the willows and the beaver ponds, the Indian road probably wound among the trees where the logging road makes its way today. Lewis and his party observed "much appearance of beaver" and "many dams." They stopped for their midday meal at a large beaver dam.
Beaver populations throughout North America were greatly reduced during the 18th and early 19th centuries, especially following the Corps of Discovery's quest for them. But despite ecologists' dire warnings about the accelerating extinction of wild creatures, beaver have shown a remarkable and widespread recovery, which has been accompanied by a fuller human appreciation of Castor canadensis as a keystone species upon which many others depend for survival.
Beaver trapping is still carried on throughout the U.S., especially in the northern latitudes. In Montana a license for trapping is required by the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, but inasmuch as the beaver population currently is quite large, overall, and with comparatively few trappers active at the present time, there are no limits on beaver taken during the open season, November 1 through April 15.
In general, fur trapping is a contentious issue that is fought aggressively by animal protection groups. In particular, the trapping of beaver is still deplored by many Indian people, who have traditionally regarded beaver as semi-sacred creatures on account of their extraordinary skills as "ecosystem engineers."1 In many parts of the country, however, trapping is widely employed to control the impacts of over-population by these opportunistic rodents, especially in urban and suburban settings, on valuable agricultural land, and wherever intensive land management is practiced. Farmers and ranchers in central and eastern Montana, for example, must keep beavers from damming irrigation ditches or digging dens in the banks, and can request special damage-control trapping permits at any time of the year.
1. See Peter Moyle and Mary A. Orland, Essays on Wildlife Conservation, Chapter 2, "A History of Wildlife in North America," http://marinebio.org/Oceans/Conservation/Moyle/ch2.asp. Accessed March 30, 2005.
Alexander Henry the elder (1739-1824) reported: "Beavers, say the Indians, were formerly a people endowed with speech, not less than with the other noble faculties they possess; but, the Great Spirit has taken this away from them, lest they should grow superior in understanding to mankind." Travels and Adventures in Canada and the Indian Territories between the years 1760 and 1776 (New York: I. Riley, 1809), 130-31.
Funded in part by a grant from the Montana Cultural Trust.