Solving Problems

It is inevitable that conflicts will arise between the two species most adept at altering the natural world to suit their own needs. Both humans and beavers have built structures that can be seen from space, for example,m the Great Wall of China and a half-mile-long beaver dam in Alberta, Canada. But we can solve these problems and benefit from the essential natural services that beaver wetlands provide.

When problems arise, working with the beaver is the best solution. If beavers are removed from good habitat, many studies show that others tend to resettle the habitat. That's because survivors in the area respond with larger litters, and beavers can migrate over tens of miles. Removing beavers, whether by killing, or live-trapping, rarely gives a lasting solution.

In addition, without beavers to keep up a dam, it will disintegrate. The subsequent loss of a vibrant pond often causes many lives to be lost and much environmental damage.

Is it a Real Problem?

Ignorance about beavers and their role in nature can cause alarm about having these medium-size animals in the neighborhood. Fear of the unknown can lead to exaggeration, such as saying dozens of beavers are present when there are only a few (it is not widely known that one family may have three lodges). In fact, overpopulation is rare, because beavers are territorial and one family typically defends a half mile of streamside territory from strange beavers.

When a beaver fells a tree or floods a few trees, a landowner may panic, unaware that such change is part of nature's cycle. Tree cutting often stimulates more growth in many species, such as willows, aspen and cottonwoods. Willow  stumps may sprout three or four new stems in the spring, and poplars resprout from the roots. Plus, there are ways to protect special trees.

Flooding may kill trees, but dead trees provide homes for wood ducks, owls herons and flying squirrels. Such trees are just as important in nature as live ones. Remember, a newly flooded beaver site is apt to be a historic wetland, where trees invaded after it was drained for agriculture. Beaver flooding is limited by geography to a small percent of the landscape wetland, and there are ways to manage undesirable flooding.

Win-Win Solutions

Allowing the beavers to remain while solving the specific problem (for example, flooded roads or tree cutting),  preserves the many beaver benefits. Wetlands are decreasing worldwide, and certain programs, such as the U.S. Wetland Reserve Program, recognize the great environmental value of these vital areas by reimbursing landowners who protect wetlands. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has the Partners for Wildlife program that can provide funding, or materials, for flow devices to qualified agencies or organizations. Freshwater wetlands have been rated in a study by over a dozen ecologists and economists as the world's most valuable terrestrial ecosystem in terms of natural services. By installing flow devices, often most of the beaver wetlands can be saved, while ending the unwanted flooding. Problems with objectionable tree cutting can be solved with fencing or other methods (see "How to Protect Trees").

Proven, cost-effective devices, such as beaver pipes in dams, are installed to control objectionable flooding. Road flooding is a common beaver/human conflict that be solved with methods such as "exclosures," or beaver fences, for example, the Beaver Deceiver. Since beavers are quite adaptible, it is best to use proven techniques.

If beavers must be relocated, using Hancock or Bailey live traps is the best method. Snares hold the victim helpless against predators and can cause death by drowning due to entangement with the wires used. No kill trap that currently exists will reliably cause a fast death under field conditions, and drowning traps are especially inhumane for animals that can hold their breath for 10 minutes or more. Surviving beavers respond to persecution with larger litters. Because of this species' benefits in creating vital wetlands, and because removal is rarely a lasting solution, working with beavers gives the best results.