MidCoast Watersheds Council Executive Director Wayne Hoffman told his member agencies Thursday night that beavers have been getting a bad rap lately and that their dams and ponds have been disappearing from Oregon woods for a long time. Hoffman said it’s time for Oregonians to re-examine the beavers’ contribution to the environment and to the salmon spawning especially.
Hoffman said although beavers are disliked because they sometimes cause road washouts, ruin fruit trees and generally can be a first class nuisance, they none-the-less contribute a great deal to Oregon fisheries and the health of Oregon’s creeks and streams. Hoffman says that beaver ponds and dams help to balance out creek and river flows by holding back water surges during storms while always letting a steady stream of water through their dams. Hoffman says their dams and ponds regulate water flows very efficiently, especially in the summer, when rivers would otherwise be down to a trickle in some areas. In so doing they keep the average groundwater table higher which keeps creek and riverside vegetation healthy, which is good for wildlife and for salmon. And by better regulating stream flows downstream, waters stay cooler which is also good for salmon. Beaver dams also trap and hold nutrients in the water longer for better distribution down stream which also benefits all wildlife.
However, beavers have their detractors for the issues mentioned above. But Hoffman said that with proper fencing, including chicken wire wraps around tree trunks, beavers can be kept at bay. But as for road washouts, a little more effort is required. Washouts begin on the upstream side of a creek culvert. Beavers build their dam on that side of the road. Dam debris plugs up the culvert – a big storm comes along – the creek can’t get through the culvert and so it backs up and boils, and washes out the road.
Hoffman said there is a way to prevent this expensive dilemma. Drive strong stakes into the riverbed in an arc just upstream from the culvert. The sturdy stakes entice the beavers to build their dam around them. The dam is thereby firmly held upstream and safely away from the culvert. The beaver likes the stability of the dam and property owners like the way their roads and driveways no longer wash out.
However, beaver dams and ponds have been in decline all up and down the Central Coast. Hoffman said there are a number of reasons. Predation is one. Ever since hunting dogs were barred in cougar hunts, the number of cougars are on the upswing. And cougars like to eat beavers. Beavers are also hunted by people, especially by rural property owners who don’t like them. There’s no limit to the number of beavers that a property owner can kill as long as they’re on his or her property. Hoffman said it’s time wildlife managers consider ordering a decrease in beaver hunting.
Other factors working against Oregon’s beavers is forest succession which can squeeze out the food that beavers depend on, along with habitat building materials like willows, for their dams. Hoffman says his agency and others have begun a program to help restore good beaver habitat by clearing small tracts of wildland near water courses. Then they plant willows and other plants popular with beavers – sort of a “if you build it they will come” approach.
And finally, Hoffman strongly endorsed a strong public information campaign aimed at rural property owners who, he said, should appreciate beavers rather than hate them – that living cooperatively with beavers and smartly managing them is in the best interest of the environment and for healthier salmon runs. Hoffman says young salmon that have been raised in and around beaver ponds grow bigger, in greater numbers and are better able to survive as they make their way down stream to the ocean. And because of their larger size and strength they’re better equipped to survive predation at sea.
Hoffman’s presentation in Newport Thursday evening was but one in a number of “beaver status” lectures he’s giving up and down the Oregon Coast to watershed management and environmental protection groups.