Beavers Not So Eager To Rebuild Dam After Biologist’s Trick

Apparently, I have a soft spot for toothsome, low-slung fur bags of middling reputations, especially those that once upon a time made good hats or make for a stirring calls to arms for those of a certain age.

Today, we’ll focus on the former, those cottonwood-champing impounders of all things flowing.

Beavers, it turns out, are pretty important for the freshwater habitat of some of our finny faves.

A recent study found that putting them to work on a North-central Oregon stream increased its productivity for juvenile summer steelhead by 175 percent.

Damn!

“The results suggest that, under the right conditions, beavers can restore the health of streams and their fish, faster and likely at lower cost than traditional river restoration that relies on expensive heavy equipment,” reported the Northwest Fisheries Science Center last month.

Makes you want to fire up the Cessna and start airdropping beavers all over the Northwest again!

Maybe so … but sometimes the rodents make ponds where ponds are not exactly desired by landowners.

Such is the case in Southwest Washington, where a forest manager with a large timber company has been trying to outwit a colony the past couple years.

They keep flooding ground he doesn’t need irrigated. Cottonwoods like their toes wet, valuable Doug firs not so much.

He replaced a culvert with a bridge, but that just led the beavers to put in a new dam above the crossing.

“Having had to remove the dam numerous times, he was seriously considering trapping. However, he realized that even trapping would not stop them. It is just too good of beaver habitat to expect that removing a few will resolve the problem,” reports WDFW in its July 25 weekly Wildlife Program report.

Enter Scott Harris.

He’s one of WDFW’s private lands biologists, a man on a mission to help property owners in coastal counties deal with deer, elk, bears, beavers and other critters that get in their gardens, treat their berries as buffet lines and fence with their fencing.

Mostly it involves encouraging the critters to go elsewhere through various and often inventive means.

Harris had an interesting idea for beating the beavers giving the forester fits, and it didn’t involve setting up one of those metal beaver deceiver contraptions.

He got ahold of something a lot cheaper — the coat of a fellow furbearer.

Once the forest manager got the permits to take out the latest dam and had removed it, Harris strung up strips of bear hide where the blockage had been, as well as underneath the bridge.

The idea is that the smell of the predator discourages the roly poly rodents from returning.

Harris says it’s an old trick in the nonlethal toolbox of timber companies and a federal agency that deals with wildlife damage issues.

But while it’s been used around culverts, apparently it hasn’t been tried under bridges before, he says.

“It is not 100 percent effective. There are some fearless beavers out there,” Harris says.

Every other time this particular dam had been destroyed, the beavers had begun reconstruction within a day, finishing the job within three, WDFW reported.

So, is the hide helping?

It’s going on three weeks now and Mother Nature’s engineers haven’t reported back to work, Harris told me late last week

WDFW PHOTOS SHOW BEFORE AND AFTER PHOTOS OF A BEAVER DAM BUILT IN A PLACE THAT A SOUTHWEST WASHINGTON TIMBER COMPANY DIDN'T WANT IT, AND THE BEAR FUR STRIPS HUNG AFTER IT WAS REMOVED TO DISSUADE MOTHER NATURE'S ENGINEERS FROM REBUILDING IT. (WDFW)

WDFW PHOTOS SHOW BEFORE AND AFTER PHOTOS OF A BEAVER DAM BUILT IN A PLACE THAT A SOUTHWEST WASHINGTON TIMBER COMPANY DIDN’T WANT IT, AND THE BEAR FUR STRIPS HUNG AFTER IT WAS REMOVED TO DISSUADE MOTHER NATURE’S ENGINEERS FROM REBUILDING IT. (WDFW)

The ruse could wear thin, or maybe a brave beaver will show up and slap the strips away with its fat tail, but in the meanwhile the effort and results are good news on another front as well.

It keeps the forest manager happy, and in a region with shrinking recreational opportunities on private timberlands, it all might help keep the company’s lands open to free hunting access, which in a sense is another part of Harris’s day job at WDFW.

“This company has a great public access policy, so naturally I will do what I can for them. If it were not for their policy several thousand acres of state land would not be accessible,” he says.

Harris is also trying out the bear fur idea around the South Coast’s cranberry bogs, where it also appears to be initially working.

Talk about an eager beaver.

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