Dealing with problem beavers on your property

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By Hillebrand Steve, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A friend of ours (let’s call him Wayne) has had a continuing problem with families of beavers taking up residence along the creek that runs through his property.  He bought the land a few years ago with the notion of fishing for trout right outside his cabin.  Instead he is spending his time dealing with flooded forests, dam removal, and relocating new squatters on his stretch of the creek.

To exasperate the situation, the flooding has extended to the neighbor upstream of him who also would rather have a creek than a pond or lake.  This has caused tension between Wayne and his neighbor, as they would prefer that the situation be resolved faster than it is and in a more permanent fashion than Wayne has opted for.  It got kind of ugly pretty quickly, and I was asked to step in and offer some advice on what kind of options they have and what they can or cannot do legally.

It became quickly clear that continuing to live with the beavers wasn’t an option either landowner wanted to consider.  The damage from chewed on or cut down trees and the flooding caused by damming the creek was too much for them to tolerate. 

So we moved on to some ideas on discouraging beavers from colonizing their stretch of the creek.  These included removing favorite foods and making it difficult for the beavers to maintain the conditions they prefer. 

Beavers will consume a variety of trees and shrubs, but prefer willow, poplar, alder, and birch.  They will abandon an area when most of the edible foods have been exhausted.  Therefore, harvesting their favorite foods and replacing with spruce and balsam is a good way to make a shoreline less attractive to beavers.

Undermining their dams is the second part of discouraging beavers from staying around.  Putting fences or beaver baffles on the upstream side of culverts is a way to make it easy to remove partially constructed dams.  If it is an established dam, lowering the water level and keeping it lower can cause a beaver to move elsewhere.  A beaver pipe can be installed through the dam to allow more water to flow beyond the dam. 

Complete dam removal was what these guys were thinking of, and so we talked a bit about their options in that regard.  Blasting the dam was something the neighbor seemed very interested in, and blasting can be a possibility.  However I explained to them that since the terrorist attacks in 2001, it can be more difficult to get blasting materials and a license to do that kind of work.  So it may be hard to find someone to blast the dam.

Getting a backhoe in to clear out the dam seems like a quick and easy solution, but there is one important consideration.  A landowner can freely remove the debris used to construct the dam, but cannot do so in a way that disturbs the streambed.  Using hand tools to remove debris is much less likely to disturb the streambed than using a backhoe. 

Looking at the dam, it became clear that they would need to disturb the streambed to get the dam out of the creek.  I told them it would be a good idea to contact the DNR Water Management Specialist that works in their county and see what permits may be needed to continue with the removal.  I told them that it is often fairly easy to get approval to remove beaver dams, and so they would be wise not to skip this step.

Finally, we talked about what to do about the beavers themselves.  I explained that, as the landowner, they can remove or destroy any nuisance beaver on their property without hunting or trapping licenses and without DNR approval.   However, this would only be a temporary solution as eventually some other beavers may work their way along the creek and would need to be dealt with.  So, they needed to be vigilant in watching for new animals moving onto their property and getting rid of them before they get too established.

They had a number of other questions that I didn’t have the answer to, so I told them to contact the local DNR wildlife biologist and fisheries biologist.  They deal with this situation regularly and know the local conditions better than I.

To learn more about dealing with beavers and other forest pests, visit the pests of the forest section.

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