Landowners offered solutions to controlling beavers

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Dorchester Banner/National Park Service-J. Schmidt Beavers are cute, yes, but they can wreak havoc on a landowner’s property.

CAMBRIDGE — Beavers are intense, serious animals that focus single-mindedly on the job at hand. When they leave their homes to go to work they paddle down a creek or pond with determination, never looking to the right or left. Just straight ahead. They play an important role in creating habitat for other animals, birds, and insects. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), “Wetlands created by beavers . . . can act as natural reservoirs, reducing flooding in the spring and increasing stream flow during the dry summer months.”
But, when does an animal become a nuisance? The DNR says, “Beavers become a nuisance when they interfere with our use of the land or create hazardous conditions. Beaver dams and ponds can flood large areas of agricultural land and forest. They can wash out roads. Permanent flooding can kill trees. When beavers cut trees they can sometimes create hazards if branches get hung up in other trees rather than fall to the ground.”
Responding to recent complaints about beavers, particularly from private landowners, Peter Jayne, DNR’s associate director of Game Management and Kevin Sullivan, expert from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) wildlife service presented information at the Oct. 21 Dorchester County Council meeting. Mr. Jayne began by clarifying the differences between nutria and beaver, both of which do damage.
He explained that Nutria is an “exotic” species, and not native to the Eastern Shore’s original wildlife community. Beavers, however, do “belong” in Maryland. Nutria damage to native habitats is, “as far as we know, irreversible once the damage is done.” He acknowledged that beavers can do significant damage from a landowner’s viewpoint but they benefit the Chesapeake Bay by changing the habitat, landscape, and wetlands of an area around a creek or pond. Impacts on beaver, while they do create nuisance problems for landowners, are considered to be positive for other species’ habitats and the Bay.
Nutria are being eradicated because of the damage they have done. Beavers have a much lower reproductive rate than nutria which can have multiple yearly litters, each with 6-8 babies. Beavers typically have 2-4 young every two years.
Mr. Jayne offered some solutions to landowners who are eager to control the beaver population on their property.
1. Use a fur trapper during the season from mid-December to mid-March when there is no bag or season limit.
2. A landowner who is willing to control the beavers by trapping or shooting them can receive a free permit.
3. A landowner may hire a licensed wildlife damage control operator, get a few bids, and select one from the approximately 27 licensed in Dorchester County.
4. Or, the USDA will deal with the problem but charges for its services.

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Dorchester Banner/National Park Service-Miller A typical beaver lodge, located near the middle of the beaver pond.

He noted there is no DNR program in place to physically visit and remove beavers from a private piece of land. There is funding dedicated to eradicating nutria but “no feasible way to transfer that funding to beaver eradication.”
Other options he suggested included: Locating a trapper who will trap at no charge during the season and take a muskrat or otter at the same time; and, training a county roads employee for licensing as a cooperative trapper to deal with culvert flooding problems due to beaver dams.
In answer to a question from the public regarding beavers on a neighbor’s property, Mr. Jayne explained that the landowner can trap on her own property if the neighbor declines permission to deal with the issue, but she cannot trap on the neighbor’s property.
Mr. Jayne explained that while beavers facilitated the settlement of this country in the early 1600s, their pelts might currently bring only $10. There is also a small “niche market” for beaver meat.
Mr. Sullivan responded to the council’s request for a deer harvesting season extension. He noted that he met with about 30 stakeholders dealing with deer issues, including the farming community. They discussed any reasonable means to increase the deer harvest, particularly Sika deer. He said, “We will put it out to a larger group to increase the firearm opportunities in the state,” and explained that the bag limit has been liberalized over the past two years with a consequent drop in the deer population. However, there has been a slow decline in license sales year after year. He added that Maryland leads the country in the number of antlerless deer and white tails taken per square mile per season. “We have very liberal seasons and bag limits and an aggressive program. We are leading the country in doing that.”
Mr. Sullivan noted the USDA partners with the Maryland DNR and offers technical assistance with the beaver problem.

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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