Three Against the Wilderness

Recognition brings beavers

Eric Collier was given two pairs of beavers by the Game Service of British Columbia in 1941, in recognition of what he had achieved by rebuilding the old beaver dams. According to the archives, these were the first to be moved from a stronghold on Bowron Lake, 250 miles to the north.

In Chapter 18 of his book, Eric Collier tells the story of how he met the legendary game warden R M Robertson in 1941, after he had restored many of the old beaver dams. He describes how Robertson spent a week on his trap line and ‘later in the year’ had this to say in the Report of the Provincial Game Commission: ‘While on a recent patrol of inspection covering the trap-line of Eric Collier, of Meldrum Lake, the potentialities of wild fur propagation were amply demonstrated on this trap-line. With the use of only a pick, shovel and wheelbarrow, Mr. Collier dammed up twenty-three out of twenty-five old, disused swamp-lands which were once the habitat of beavers, muskrats, and other fur-bearers. These areas ranged in size from eighty to five hundred acres each. The runoff of the winter snows were held and the swamps reflooded. This was followed by the rapid appearance of muskrats and other furbearers, waterfowl and big game, as numerous tracks testified. In fact, the whole situation and appearance of the country changed from one of apparent stillness and dearth of life to animation and restoration of its pristine condition. The irrigation problems of an area contiguous to the Collier trap line have been largely solved as a result of the above project. The Collier project on the headwaters of Meldrum Creek is a brilliant example of what can be done in this very fertile field of endeavor.’ (Pages 202-203)

Collier then says: ‘But not until the following September was I again reminded of his suggestion that “you could well do with a bit of help in maintaining all these dams”.’ So he gives the clear impression that Robertson and the Game Commission offered him beavers after seeing the full benefit of the restored dams.

ON THE RECORD

I asked Gerry Lister, historian of the Game Warden Service at the BC Environment Ministry to check Collier’s quotation against the record in the archives. I am very grateful for his research, which led to this reply:

‘It appears that Mr. Collier’s facts are not entirely straight.  I read the chapter you asked about and started digging through annual reports and could not (at first) find that quote.
 
‘Anyway, I found some excerpts that related to plans to start conducting a full scale beaver reintroduction programme by trapping beavers from Bowron Lake and moving them to various parts of the province.  This is first mentioned in the 1939 Report of Provincial Game Commission:

“The Bowron Lake Reserve is still the sanctuary for beaver.  Trappers whose lines surround this reserve report increased catches.  The existence of this beaver sanctuary is necessary if we are to save the beaver in this area.  Restocking of certain trap-lines depleted through poaching should continue as a fixed policy of the Department.”
 
From 1940:
“No beaver were trapped for distribution from the Bowron Lake Sanctuary because of the necessity of curtailing expenses. This work pays a dividend and should be continued.”
 
From 1941:
“No beavers were planted in this Division during the year just ended, which is indeed regrettable.  This was due to the retirement of Mr. F. Kibbee, Warden i/c of the Bowron Lake sanctuary, because of illness.”
 
From 1942:
“Four beavers were planted on a registered trap-line in the Riske Creek district.  This number was limited because of the employment of a new Warden at Bowron Lake.  There is also a need for the curtailment in the numbers to be trapped because of poaching during the interval between the discharge of the last officer and the present appointee.  High water also played a part in reduced beaver population.  The number to be trapped will be gradually increased as the beaver population increases.”
 
Now according to Collier’s book, Robertson wrote the quoted paragraph in the 1941 Report, but in reality the main body of it is in the 1945 report (thus after the introduction of the four Bowron beavers).  The remainder of the paragraph is an embellished paraphrasing by Collier of an excerpt from the 1946 Report.  I have included both excerpts in their entirety so you can judge for yourself – you’ll note that he left out the bit about the liberation of the beavers, and added some other details not mentioned by Robertson:
 
1945:
“While on a recent patrol of inspection covering the trap-line of Eric Collier, president of the British Columbia Registered Trappers’ Association, Riske Creek, the potentialities of wild fur propagation were amply demonstrated on this trap-line.  Armed with a shovel only, Mr. Collier dammed up twenty-three out of twenty-five old, disused swamplands which were once the habitat of beavers, muskrats, and other fur-bearers. These areas ranged in size from 80 to 500 acres each. The winter snows were held and in the spring water flooded these swamps. This was followed by the appearance of muskrats and other fur-bearers, water-fowl, big game, as numerous tracks testified. In fact, the whole situation and appearance of the country changed from one of apparent stillness and dearth of life to animation and restoration of its pristine condition. To assist this project the Game Department liberated a few beavers. This can be done with many other trap-lines. To develop and carry on a scheme of this kind would naturally demand trained personnel, and with the present limited staff of Game Wardens any suggestion of increased staff to handle the manifold duties before us will have to wait until its importance as a wealth-producer is recognized.

“The irrigation problems of one area contiguous to the Collier trap-line have been largely solved as a result of the above project. This trap-line, starting with a capital expenditure of $18 a few years ago, now produces an annual income in the four-figure bracket from furs alone.

“Aquatic insect-life, so valuable to the feeding of trout, has increased to an enormous extent, and fishing is now once more being enjoyed at the mouth of Meldrum Creek as a result of the growth of aquatic insect-life on Collier’s trap-line ponds. Bird-life has also increased in the alfalfa fields, where the irrigation water, teeming with aquatic insects, forms a change of diet to both insectivorous and game birds alike. This is only one example of the tremendous possibilities lying before us and awaiting the green light to go ahead”
 
1946:
“The most brilliant example of what beavers can do toward the increase of water-fowl in this Province can be seen on the trap-line of Mr. Eric Collier. In addition, Mr. Collier’s work with a shovel and scraper in the damming-up of water from the melting snows and holding back the spring run-off is well worth a visit of inspection. As a fur-farmer specializing in the raising of rats at present on the large number of artificially created ponds plus the present additional work of beaver activity, he is now enjoying substantial dividends as a result of honest and painstaking effort. While it is true that there may be off-years due to disease and other factors, these problems could be largely overcome by the advice of an expert on diseases of fur-bearers.”

Postscript Gerry Lister wrote of Game Warden Robertson: ‘He is quite well known as the officer who hunted down and “shot” Frank Gott, the man who murdered Game Warden Albert Farey in 1932.’

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One Response

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  1. olddawg60 said, on July 13, 2014 at 3:40 am

    I am proud to say, that BC Game Warden Frank Kibbee is my great, great, uncle. In 2011, a friend of mine suggested that I read Eric Collier’s, “Three Against the Wilderness”, solely because she knew I enjoyed true wilderness-survival epics. Neither of us was aware of the Collier/Frank Kibbee connection. That discovery came much later, during some genealogical eMail correspondence with a woman in Barkerville BC, who knew the Kibbee story, and mentioned that he’d been a Warden.


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