Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

April 9, 2009

Attack beaver dam, face up to $25,000 fine

Town after person who destroyed Salem Street dam

By Judy Wakefield

Someone apparently took a garden hoe or other tool and hacked away at two beaver dams on Salem Street recently.

The beavers quickly rebuilt their dams. If the person is caught, he or she could face up to a $25,000 fine, according to the state's Division of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Local conservation and environmental officials notified state environmental police of "the unauthorized breaching of beaver dams," a violation of local, state and federal laws, said Andover Conservation Commissioner Robert Douglas. The problem is a common one.

Water levels tend to rise in early spring as snow melts and rain falls. These high water levels usually cause the beavers to build more dams, Douglas said. The dams can redirect water onto people's property, causing the frustation that leads people to attack the dams.

Douglas said he's concerned about high water levels and subsequent beaver dams "choking septic systems" around town. He's been on the hunt for beaver dams to keep potential problems under control.

Conflicts between beavers and people have gone on for years. In fact, the Massachusetts Legislature now gives local Boards of Health authority to issue emergency permits to trap beavers during certain times of the year.

But Douglas suggests another way for Andover to solve water problems caused by beavers is for his department to seek state approval for a device known as a "beaver deceiver." The device allows water to flow through a dam, without alerting the beavers to any change and causing them to rebuild dams.

Local environmentalists and trails enthusiasists are well aware of the rising water levels caused by beavers, Douglas said.

In fact, the Andover Village Improvement Society has been forced to raise a boardwalk on one trail in an AVIS reservation because the trail became under water, he said.

The AVIS problem may soon be resolved as Douglas expects the state's Department of Public Health to allow Andover to install a beaver deceiver system that keeps water moving.

"I'll get the permit for AVIS to install it," Douglas said. "The beauty of it is that there is no sound as it lowers the water."

Without the rush of water, beavers sense no reason to build a dam.

Benefits of beavers

While many homeowners think about beavers only when their dams are causing problems, environmentalists say beaver dams have beneficial aspects:

Beaver dams create wetlands. These wetlands provide habitat for a diversity of plants and wildlife, such as deer, bats, otter, herons, waterfowl, songbirds, raptors, salamanders, turtles, frogs and fish.

Wetlands control downstream flooding by storing and slowly releasing floodwater. They also improve water quality by removing or transforming excess nutrients and sediment, trapping silt, and binding and removing toxic chemicals.

Source: MassWildlife Web site.