The Benefits of Beavers
Beavers can be a nuisance, flooding valuable land and infrastructure, blocking culverts, and damaging desirable vegetation on properties. However, before removing beavers from your property, consider this: It is estimated that wetland habitat created by beaver activity supports over 80% of Montana’s wildlife. Beavers and their dams have a vital role in the water quality and wildlife habitat of systems that they inhabit. Just a few of these “ecosystem services” include:
- Local surface and groundwater storage
- Drought, flood, and fire resilience
- Improved water quality and reduced bank erosion
- Improved and more diverse habitat for fish and wildlife
- Improved riparian vegetation and late-season forage
If you have an issue with beavers on your property, first consider both the risk and rewards of their presence. In addition to benefiting local wildlife and fish populations, beaver activity can also benefit cropland and range health by improving local water quality and storage. If beaver activity on your land is tolerable, we encourage that you to allow them to stay. It must be noted, beaver dam removal is considered a 310 project by the Lewis & Clark Conservation District and does require a permit. If removal is the only mitigation option, see our Stream Permitting page for more detail on 310 permits or contact us.
Traditionally, nuisance beaver populations were dealt with by means of lethal trapping/extermination, relocation, and dam excavation using heavy-equipment or explosives. These methods can be both costly and dangerous, and often only offer a “short-term” solution to beaver problems. If a beaver population finds an area suitable to live but is removed, they are often quickly replaced by another soon after.
If beavers are a nuisance on your property, there are numerous non-lethal management strategies available. There is a wide variety of resources available out there to help landowners deal with beavers. Here are few solutions we suggest:
Tree and Plant Protection
One simple solution to prevent beavers from harvesting valuable trees is wrapping trunks in galvanized welded wire fencing. Fencing can be painted or covered in vinyl to make it less noticeable. Alternatively, an area of desirable trees can be protected using perimeter fencing (wire or electric). Ensure your fence height accounts for snowfall.
Painting trunks with a mixture of latex paint and sand can also deter beavers from gnawing on trees. Montana FWP recommends a ratio of 2/3 cup masonry grade sand per quart of latex paint. Choosing a paint color that matches the color of the tree’s bark helps keep painting less noticeable. This technique is most effective for larger diameter trees (3″-4″ or greater).
Beavers are drawn to the sound and the pull of constricted flowing water, making culverts a prime site for dam construction. Simple structures such as the one seen below prevent beavers from damming culverts and headgates, saving landowners and municipalities from costly dam removal and cleanup while allowing beavers to remain in surrounding areas.
Beaver dams can result in undesirable flooding of roads, pastures, fields, and other private land areas. Pond leveling devices can be installed to maintain water levels to an acceptable height. It should be noted that pond levels should be maintained at least 3 feet deep to allow beavers to continue habitat. Beavers rely on their ponds to move and store food and to avoid predators!
Planning and implementation:
While on paper, these structures seem simple, we recommend you consult a professional before implementing them on your property. In order for these structures to function effectively, site location, characteristics, and local hydrology all should be considered in their design. If you are planning to do work on a perennial stream, a 310 permit must first be approved through the Conservation District.
In Montana, the Clark Fork Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, and National Wildlife Federation have joined forces to initiate the Montana Beaver Conflict Resolution project. This project is geared at increasing beaver tolerance and promoting nonlethal mitigation strategies for landowners and other agencies across the state. If you are having beaver issues on your property, please contact Elissa Chott. As the project’s Beaver Technician, she offers a wealth of knowledge and experience about these structures and can provide you with technical assistance to help solve your beaver troubles.