For several years, wildlife biologist and Beaver State Wildlife Solutions owner Jakob Shockey has developed and implemented anti-lethal solutions to help property owners deal with beavers and the challenges they can present when they take up residence.
Shockey, who grew up on a farm in the Siskiyou Mountains, shared various ideas and solutions during his presentation “Resolving Conflicts with Beaver Using Natural Science and Design” at the Necanicum Watershed Council’s Listening to the Land event at Seaside Public Library on March 20.
Beavers can create problems for land owners in two primary ways: Building dams that block waterways and/or cause flooding, and tree mortality, or cutting down trees, in particular. To resolve these conflicts, land owners have a number of options, including trapping, relocating or killing them.
Currently, killing beavers is easily accomplished from a legal standpoint, Shockey said. For public land purposes, they are classified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as “furbearers,” which allows hunters to kill them with a furbearer license. When it comes to private property, the Oregon Department of Agriculture defines the beaver as a “predatory rodent” — similar to a mouse or an opossum — which allows land owners to kill them without limit.
Shockey’s goal, however, is to help residents instead pursue predictive management, which includes working within the ecosystems of streams, rivers and wetlands and implementing long-term and cost-effective solutions that serve as alternatives to bullets and bait.
“If you’ve got beaver at your site, that means it is good beaver habitat,” he said. “If you open that niche up, there is going to be another population at some point.… You start getting on a treadmill of removal — doesn’t matter if it’s lethal removal or relocation. If you’re taking animals out of a territory that’s been deemed high-value by the animal, there are going to be more that come in.”
Preventing tree mortality, flooding
When it comes to tree-cutting, Shockey said, effective solutions include surrounding the base and root collar with welded 2”-by-4” wire at least 30” inches above the ground and 24” above the snow line; and covering the surface of a tree base with a mixture of latex paint and clean, dry sand. For large areas, such as orchards or crop fields, land owners also can consider electric fences, as long as they maintain the vegetation beneath the fence.
To address flooding — the other primary conflict, which can cause impoundment and damage to urban infrastructure and cropland — Shockey suggests installing flow devices. They fall into three main categories: flexible pond levelers; trapezoidal culvert fences; and fence and pipe systems.
In all cases, the devices capitalize on natural science and beaver behavior to address potential negative ramifications of damming without relocating or harming wildlife. Shockey pointed out a potential issue with flow devices is property owners can be held liable if they alter a beaver dam and it causes flooding on neighboring property.
“If you mess with a natural system that’s stable, you’re taking on the liability for potential failure,” he said.
It’s also important, Shockey added, to work with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration to ensure the systems don’t inhibit fish passage.
Protecting a keystone species
Other predictive management strategies seek ways for beavers and land owners to live in harmony by protecting priority trees while leaving enough forage for wildlife or compelling beavers to relocate their dams to more optimal sites in the waterway, to name a few.
The endeavor is worthwhile, in Shockey’s estimation, because beavers are a keystone species in the Pacific Northwest. Their dams create wetland ecosystems that provide nesting sites for birds and increase fish and waterfowl populations.
“There is a myriad of animals that depend on the systems the beavers build,” he said. With beaver being an animal whose presence is quantifiably proven to increase water supplies, suitable habitat and fish populations, he added, a question to ask is, “How can we kind of get out of their way and let that happen?”
Listening to the Land is a monthly winter speaker series presented by the Necanicum Watershed Council in partnership with the library at 6 p.m. the third Wednesday of each month through May.
On April 17, Oregon Wild Wildlife Coordinator Danielle Moser with present on “Lost and Imperiled Species of the Oregon Coast: An Exploration of Oregon’s Iconic, Recovering and Threatened Wildlife.” For more information, visit necanicumwatershed.org.