New Hope for Happy Endings to Beaver Conflicts
by Holly Sletteland
One of our most important goals here at the Beaver Brigade is increasing awareness of the beneficial role that beavers play in our ecosystems. If you’re reading this newsletter, there’s a good chance you’ve participated in one or more of our outreach efforts, whether it be joining us for one our “Watery Walks”, stopping by the Farmer’s Market booth, watching a presentation with a community group or helping us to improve beaver habitat by picking up trash near their ponds. Hopefully, you’ve learned that beavers create highly productive wetland habitat that replenishes the water table, improves water quality, reduces erosion, resists wildfire, and significantly increases plant and animal biodiversity.
Unfortunately, the very same activities that yield such essential ecological benefits can also create a lot of problems for people. Few of us would be thrilled to find the trees in our yards toppled for a dam or to have our homes or driveways flooded by a beaver dam. Most businesses take an equally dim view of damage caused by flooding of roads, railways and property which disrupt their operations. In the past, the most common “solution” to such conflicts was to kill the beavers by shooting or trapping them. In many cases, people didn’t even wait for a problem to develop, but simply killed beavers as a preventative measure as soon as they realized beavers had moved in.
We are fortunate that a number of inventive folks began looking into alternative approaches for resolving conflicts between beavers and people during the 1980-1990s. A variety of innovative devices were developed to eliminate damage from flooding by beaver dam activity, including custom fencing, culvert guards and pond levelers. In addition, painting trunks with sand and/or enclosing trunks in wire cages were advanced as effective ways to prevent damage to individual trees. Welded wire fencing was suggested for protecting larger groves. If these measures failed to successfully resolve the problem, humane traps were developed that could be used to capture live beavers and relocate them to more remote areas where they wouldn’t bother people.
All of these measures have improved significantly in recent years and the number of practitioners that are skilled in implementing them has grown exponentially. There simply isn’t any reason to kill “nuisance beavers” anymore when there are so many effective ways to coexist with them. If they really can’t be tolerated in a particular location, they can be relocated to another area with suitable habitat. Several states have adapted their regulations for resolving human-beaver conflicts to encourage these non-lethal approaches, such as Washington, Oregon and Colorado. California is not among them, and the Beaver Brigade is working with other beaver advocates to change that.
The Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) ) filed a rulemaking petition with the California Fish and Game Commission in 2019 to amend the state regulatory code to provide increased protection for beavers. They were joined by the Center for Biological Diversity, Occidental Arts and Ecology Center (OAEC), North Coast Environmental Center and Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment (SAFE) as co-petitioners.
The changes they proposed would require landowners to exhaust non-lethal methods for reducing conflicts with beavers before a permit could be issued to kill them, unless risks to human safety necessitated immediate lethal action. In addition, the Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) would be required to consider the impacts of removing beavers on threatened and endangered species (e.g. salmon, red legged frogs, southwestern willow flycatchers) in the area.
If harm to listed species was likely to occur, CDFW would be required to deny a depredation permit or insist the harm to be mitigated.
The petition languished for years with no attention from regulators, but recent turnover of commissioners and staff has led to renewed interest in considering revisions of the code. OAEC has taken the lead on working with CDFW staff on crafting satisfactory language which can then be brought before the Fish and Game Commission for approval. We are hopeful this may be approved this year.
Although relocation of beavers is not included in the current round of proposed changes, CDFW has also signaled interest in creating a pilot program to evaluate the feasibility of allowing beavers to be moved under specific circumstances. This is an extremely welcome development. While the preferred option for resolving conflicts is to enable beavers to stay in place by helping land managers learn to coexist with them successfully, it doesn’t always work. In the event coexistence fails, we owe it to the beavers, the biodiversity they support and to ourselves to give them a chance to move into a new, welcoming home where they can flourish long in the future.