Are You a Beaver Believer?

By Heath Keirstead | May 12, 2014

flickr-2452702213-original © stevehdcHow you feel about beavers probably depends on where you live and what your experiences with them have been. Not everyone who has beavers on their property wants to keep them around. According to a recent survey of Oregonians, respondents who have experienced beaver impacts are less likely to take advantage of incentives for retaining beavers and their habitat than those who have no experience with beavers.

But beavers and the landscapes they engineer have many benefits worth considering. In fact, the beaver is considered a keystone species upon which other species depend. The ponds and wetlands that beavers create provide habitat for mink, river otter, muskrats, turtles, frogs, salamanders, waterfowl, aquatic insects and fish. Of particular note, the health and abundance of juvenile Coho Salmon overwintering in beaver ponds is greater than that of juveniles overwintering in flowing stream habitats. Snags created by rising water levels provide food sources and homes for wildlife and birds. The wetlands created by beavers help with flood control by slowing down high stream flows. They also improve water quality, help raise the groundwater table, and reduce streambank erosion.

So why isn’t everyone a beaver fan?

Sometimes beaver behavior conflicts with the needs of neighboring humans. Beavers eat the inner bark, leaves and twigs of various deciduous trees. They also eat shrubs, ferns, aquatic plants, grasses blackberries and agricultural crops. So if you are trying to maintain or restore a riparian forest or grow crops, you might not be thrilled to have beavers living nearby. The dams and wetlands they create may cause flooding and damage septic systems, roads and other infrastructure, like culverts. But options exist to help humans and beavers coexist peacefully.

Tips for Living with Beavers

  • Choose plants that are not preferred beavers foods such as: Sitka spruce, elderberry, cascara, osoberry, ninebark and twinberry. (Note: these plants might get used as construction materials.)
  • Plant preferred beaver food plants (willow, aspen, cottonwood, spirea and red-twig dogwood) densely and away from known beaver trails.
  • Protect young trees from beaver predation by installing barriers such as metal flashing, chicken wire, hardware cloth or wire fencing held in place with rebar stakes. Protection should reach at least four feet above the ground or snow line.
  • Supply beavers with a snack bar: stake down several truckloads of “sacrifice” willows for easy beaver dining.
  • Spray taste and odor repellents on vegetation at the first sign of beaver activity.
  • To prevent flooding and culvert plugging, build a welded wire cage around the culvert mouth. View this video to learn how a “beaver deceiver” works.
  • Beaver translocation is tricky. Check with ODFW for details.

When Benton County resident, Dave Schmedding, wanted to do some restoration work near his resident beaver colony, he talked to OSU’s Fisheries & Wildlife Professor Stan Gregory about the possibilities. Stan told him, “good luck”. Sure enough, the beavers ate all his newly planted willows. But Dave didn’t give up. Working with local restoration professionals, he installed a pond leveler to minimize flooding and made some other adjustments. Now he and the beavers both have what they want- Dave has a successful restoration project and the beavers have a great place to live. Dave’s a Beaver Believer; are you?

Resources used to write this article:

Morzillo, Anita T. and Mark D. Needham: Landowner Incentives and Tolerances for Managing Beaver Impacts in Oregon, pages 8-9 published in Western Forester, March/April/May 2013

Hoffman, Wayne and Fran Recht: Beavers and Conservation in Oregon Coastal Watersheds: a background paper.

Living with Wildlife: American Beaver by ODFW

Neighborhood Naturalist Newsletter: Beaver Issue

Neighborhood Naturalist Beaver Video

Beaver Solutions website

Evidence of beaver activity: a slide © D. Schmitz Evidence of beaver activity in foreground of beaver pond © D. SchmitzVigorously resprouting beaver tree Beavers will fell trees

About the Author

Heath Keirstead

Heath Keirstead manages Benton SWCD’s Communications and Community Engagement as well as the Native Plant Program and Youth Education. She has a Master’s in Soil Science from Oregon State University. With a dual passion for people and the planet, she loves building relationships with partners, customers, volunteers, and students.

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