“Fighting Beavers for Years!”

Fighting Beavers for Years! is the subject line of an email I recently received. The message described a pond with an overflow pipe clogged with branches and mud. A neighbor with helpful intentions recommended trapping and killing the beavers-to-blame, which they did year after year, in an endeavor they described as a “constant battle.”

Every time a pair was trapped out, new beavers moved in. After all, the pond was still attractive habitat and the perfect spot for a new pair to settle. If there are other beavers reproducing in the area, those dispersing two-year-olds have to go somewhere!

The language used to describe the nature of these interactions reminded me of the work of anthropologist John Knight who studied Japanese monkeys and their crop-munchie-munching behavior. In some parts of Japan, monkeys who eat food grown by people are referred to as ‘thieves’ and ‘criminals’ and these multi-species interactions as ‘wars.’ This language of criminality surrounding the monkeys’ behavior conveys valuable information about the relationship between Japanese farmers and their monkey ‘enemies.’

The email I received contains similar language and suggests similarly complex human perceptions of beavers. I am continually fascinated by the commitment with which people attempt to trap beavers out of an area again and again with no lasting success. At what point does someone ask: “Is this strategy actually working long-term?” There is such loyalty to the lethal method despite the fact that it is only temporarily effective. Because relocation is illegal in Virginia, people assume they have to either live with the problems beavers cause (clogged culverts, flooding, and felled trees) or kill them. That’s not always the case.

As part of my job at The Clifton Institute, I share information with landowners about nonlethal options for managing human-beaver conflicts. There is often a way to protect a culvert from damming behavior or a flow device to install that lowers the water level while allowing beavers to stay alive and on the land. Trees can be protected from chewing with relatively simple and cheap solutions. This way, people can enjoy the numerous benefits beavers provide such as creating wetland habitat, increasing biodiversity, restoring streams, replenishing the water table, slowing wildfires, drought-proofing the landscape, repairing erosion, and more!

In short, coexisting with beavers need not be a constant battle.

(If you live in northern Virginia, have beavers on your property, and would like a site visit, you can request one here: http://cliftoninstitute.org/property-visit)

Spud doesn’t want to fight! Photo by Mike Digout.

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