Cost-effective, humane ways to control beavers

Anne Mazar Gatehouse News Service

North America’s largest rodent. Nuisance. Pest. There is a widespread under appreciation for the North American Beaver, Castor canadensis.

Beavers are most often mentioned when a property is flooded as a result of a beaver dam. Yes, they are busy and can transform a landscape. What most people do not realize is that they are extremely beneficial to humans and wildlife, and we can coexist under most circumstances.

The typical solution to a “beaver problem” is to trap and kill beavers or blow up their lodges, often unnecessary and cruel actions. Mike Callahan, of Beaver Solutions based out of Southampton, Mass., has worked on approximately 800 sites where beavers were causing flooding, mostly in Massachusetts, but also as far away as Alaska and Canada.

The vast majority of the time Callahan said, he has found a cost-effective, long-term and humane solution to allow the beavers to stay in their habitat without flooding areas that would negatively impact humans.

Beavers are a keystone species, supporting hundreds of other species of wildlife. Their meticulously built dams create biologically productive wetlands, opening up wooded areas to sunlight, creating nutrient-rich waters, providing a resource for mink, otters, wood ducks, trout, and plants like cattails, winterberries and more.

Beavers provide a priceless service to humans by protecting and cleaning drinking water. The dams help to filter toxins such as pesticides and fertilizers. The dams maintain water flow to prevent erosion and flooding downstream. The wetlands recharge the aquifers and help maintain stream flow during droughts.

Callahan started out working with 50 other volunteers, installing flow devices that let the water run under the beaver dams, allowing the beavers to remain but not cause nuisance flooding. The need was so great they worked every weekend and soon the group was burned out. Callahan started his company, Beaver Solutions, as a part-time effort, but it is now a full-time job. After installing hundreds of devices and learning through trial and error, he has perfected his innovative methods. He has installed more flow devices than anyone else in the U.S.

Callahan has also developed a self-help DVD, “The Best Beaver Management Practices: Long Term Solutions to Beaver Dam Flooding,” with grant funding from the Animal Welfare Institute, so that others can install systems.

Callahan works with many highway departments, because beavers like to block culverts, which then lead to a flooded road.

Callahan can usually find an innovative solution, but as a last resort in rare situations, the beavers are trapped and killed in the most humane way possible.

Callahan feels that non-lethal beaver management is important to the environment and the misunderstood beaver. He wants to spread the word. He says, “It’s always better to work with nature instead of against it.” With regards to his devices he says he has hundreds of happy customers and that, “Seeing is believing.”Anne Mazar is an environmental advocate and a member of the Mendon Land Use Committee in Massachusetts.