Burrowing muskrats in Harrisonville City Park have resulted in a leaking spillway and other damage found at the lakes, and in response, Parks and Recreation Director Chris Deal said the city is looking to eliminate its rodent problem through trapping.
The issue was brought up most recently by the parks director at a June 19 meeting of the city’s board of aldermen, and as a result, the eight-member board unanimously agreed to amend an ordinance to allow trapping in the parks under limited conditions.
“The main concern with the muskrat population is they damage the dam areas,” Deal said. “They are somehow drawn to those areas a lot of times because of the way that they dig. It’s caused by their burrowing. They do tunneling into the dams and it can result in leaks and it could even result in complete dam failure.”
A photo taken recently shows water leaking underneath a spillway at City Lake, also known as the upper lake within the 275-acre park. In a memo to the mayor, aldermen and city administrator, Deal said staff members have been using bentonite, an absorbent clay, to stop the leaks temporarily. The damage was recently reviewed by parks employees as well as the city engineer.
Deal said the lakes and the spillway, which was built in the 1930s, needs to be protected, prompting the parks and recreation department to consider trapping and killing muskrats in affected areas. Removing the muskrats would allow the city to help prevent further damage, Deal said in an interview.
The parks department said it did not yet have estimates in how much repairs and trapping the muskrats would cost the city, but over the last four years, the city has spent “up to $40,000” in rock to secure the dam. Deal said costs for the lake damage are drawn from two departmental budgets, parks and recreation as well as public works.
“By us removing the muskrats, that would make it so that we can put in some more of what’s called riprap rock, which we have all along the dam, but it’s not close enough to the spillway and we will put more rock closer to the spillway so they can’t go burrowing and build their homes in there,” Deal said.
Deal said last week he was waiting to get back in touch with the Missouri Department of Conservation to learn more about the trapping process. Deal said the city is depending on the state agency to recommend the best process.
“We’re moving on the issue and as soon as we can get things hooked up with them, we’ll get moving on our process,” Deal said, adding that he was hoping trapping would begin within the next couple of weeks.
The traps the city will likely use kill muskrats by trapping them underwater. The parks director said the city would likely set a few underwater traps at a time.
“The tail is identified, the trap goes down in the water, underwater, out of sight, and the muskrat swims in it, it doesn’t come out and then you retrieve the trap and remove the muskrat. That’s how they (trappers) do it,” Deal said.
Muskrats are medium-sized semi-aquatic rodents, commonly found throughout the U.S. The Missouri Department of Conservation says muskrats help control populations of plants and small animals they consume; however, muskrats can also be considered a nuisance for some.
Phil Needham, a conservation agent in Cass County, said muskrats often pose problems for property owners who have ponds. In addition, Needham said about 60 to 100 muskrats are trapped each year in Amarugia Highlands Conservation Area, located in south Cass County, to keep the population in check.
“When the conditions get right, they’ll (muskrats) move in and start doing damage. Sometimes it’s extensive, sometimes it’s not. I believe most pond owners, if they’ve had their ponds for more than 10 years, have probably had to deal with them in one way or another,” Needham said.
Needham said the most effective muskrat trapping occurs underwater. Though some live traps are available on land and on water, Needham said it can be more expensive, and trappers would have to determine where to relocate caught muskrats.
“The most economically feasible way is to trap them right in the entrances to their dens, which is usually a foot to 2 feet underwater,” Needham said.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri Wildlife Code considers the muskrat to be a furbearer and game mammal that may be taken during the prescribed trapping season, but the wildlife code says property owners may shoot or trap “damage-causing” muskrats out of season without a permit.
The code already allows people to protect their property by killing or capturing invasive or harmful wildlife, but in Harrisonville, Deal said he had proposed making an amendment to the city’s existing ordinance to eliminate confusion. Prior to June 19, Deal said the city ordinance didn’t allow for trapping.
The amendment allows for trapping in city parks under limited conditions. It requires trappers to have a permit from the Missouri Department of Conservation and to receive approval from the parks and recreation director and/or the city administrator.
To view the full ordinance, visit the Harrisonville city website.