Once in great demand for their fur, beavers were close to extinction not so long ago but, thanks to a decline in their value, fewer trappers and more conscientious recovery efforts, they are now numerous in many places, even to the point of becoming pests. Unable to tolerate the sound of running water, they dam streams and plug culverts, flooding roads and valuable stands of timber. Their activities can threaten property and even lives when their numbers become too great.
Changing the landscape and altering the environment to suit their needs, the wetlands they create provide food and shelter for a wide variety of wildlife. Turtles, frogs, ducks and other animals take advantage of beaver ponds. Dragonflies and damselflies dart over the water, resting on cattails and reeds while native brook trout rise to take mayflies, mosquitoes and midges. Muskrats take up residence in beaver ponds, eating plants that thrive in the warm, slow water and digging tunnels into the soft banks, expanding the wet edges and increasing the potential for property damage.
There are several robust populations of beavers on the property of the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society and when the road to one of the camps along the shore of Fish in a Barrel Pond was threatened by rising water and muskrat tunnels, the search for a solution fell to me.
Trapping and shooting are viable options (relocation is not) but a new generation of beavers is bound to show up next year to take up where their deceased predecessors left off. Besides, if I am going to sit for hours in a cloud of mosquitoes, blackflies and no-see-ums I’d rather do it in a boat, waiting for trout instead of in a swamp, waiting for large aquatic rodents.
As always, the members of the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society were eager to offer suggestions and advice. “Dynamite the dam,” they’d say. Or, “Poke a hole in the lodge, pour in some gas and burn ‘em out!” Violent and destructive, not to mention dangerous, I dismissed most of their suggestions as diplomatically as possible. Other members wanted nothing to be done, saying the beavers were here first (even though I know for a fact that this is at least the fifth group of beavers to occupy this pond in the last three years) and should be allowed to do what beavers do, even if it means an expensive and time consuming project to grade and build a new road away from the beaver pond.
The problem was baffling and, as it turns out, so was the solution.
With help from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, I am pleased to present the apparent end to my dilemma, The Beaver Baffle.
Protected from predators, our current beaver tenants spend most of their time in a fortress of mud and sticks.
When not in their lodge, the beavers spend their time dragging logs, uprooting saplings and pushing mud to strengthen their dam.
Work began on a warm, sunny afternoon made especially memorable by the sheer numbers of blackflies.
Once we had a good-sized notch cut through the dam, a large cage was mounted on the end of a large pipe and placed on a float. When enough pipe had been added, the cage was guided into position behind the dam and the pipe was placed into the notch we had cut.
Using the SWAG (Scientific Wild Ass Guess) method, the pipe was lowered to an appropriate level and water began to flow through it. The large cage over the end of the pipe is to prevent the beavers (should they ever figure out where their leak is) from blocking the flow.
The change in the water level was quick, with thousands of gallons pouring through our pipe in a very short time. The idea is not to completely drain the beaver pond, just save the road and, with this new beaver baffle in place, we have managed to do just that while also preserving the wetland.
So far, the beavers have not figured out why their pond has shrunk. The notch we made for the pipe got them bent out of shape, though, and they have been as busy as, well, beavers, fixing what they perceive to be the problem.
Old Quill is happy to have more time to fish instead of worrying about the road or sitting down there ’til after dark, among the mosquitoes and frogs like an assassin but none of this means all of the beavers are forever safe. Their numbers will still need to be kept in check and that will mean some trapping but I hear beaver fur makes dandy little wet flies for brook trout.