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Beavers gnawing problem on farmland

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Americans of a certain age may recall Bucky Beaver, the cheerful, furry, buck-toothed TV pitchman for Ipana Toothpaste in the 1950s. For many urban viewers, those ads supported an unrealistic image of the beaver as a cuddly, lovable creature.

Real-life beavers are many things to humans, but household pet is not one of them.

“Beavers can be a very beneficial species, or they can be a very detrimental species,” says Becky McPeake, wildlife specialist with the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. “It just depends on your needs. If you have trees, if you have crops, beavers may be your enemy.”

Nobody has to tell that to Gary Bredlow, a rice, soybean and wheat producer in southeast Pulaski County, Ark. “That beaver has one objective, and that’s to gnaw on timber and stop up ditches,” says Bredlow, who estimates beaver dams have plugged every culvert on his 2,000-acre farm since the first beavers arrived there in the 1960s.

“He isn’t anything but a 60-pound rat with a flat tail.”

The beaver is indeed a rodent, a large amphibious one, in such demand for its fur in the 18th and 19th centuries that it was nearly trapped into extinction. The beaver population in Arkansas began to replenish in the mid-20th century and is on the increase now, though an exact count is hard to quantify.

The sociological structure of the beaver’s life is similar to that of humans, in that it tends to be monogamous and live in single-family units. Beavers work tirelessly as a team, responding to the irrepressible instinct to create a pond — a habitat that is safer and more comfortable for them.

They drag almost any nearby vegetation — trees, limbs, twigs and agriculture crops — to the spot in the stream where it’s easiest to stanch the flow of water with a dam.

That’s not all bad for landowners, especially those who want to attract wetland waterfowl such as ducks and marsh birds.

“I’ve even had a call from someone wanting to capture a beaver and relocate it for that very purpose,” McPeake says. “That’s not legal, because of concerns with transporting diseases (such as tularemia and Giardia).”

But the beaver’s instinctive and unceasing dam-building activity can also destroy farmland and timberland, costing landowners many thousands of dollars. Their activities often flood roadways by stopping up road ditches and drain pipes.

There are several ways to deal with nuisance beavers. The Arkansas Extension Service recommends trapping for problem animals. Information on traps and techniques are contained in an Extension fact sheet, Beaver Damage Prevention and Control Methods, available at county Extension offices.

“Trapping is the most effective method if you have some knowledge of the beaver’s habits. And it should be done humanely.”

Beaver season runs from mid-November through March, but nuisance beavers can be trapped any time with the proper permit from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Night shooting is also an option, but permits are required.

Some landowners choose to dynamite the lodge or dam, but that seldom proves permanently effective because of the beaver’s amazing capacity to rebuild quickly. Removing building materials — especially willow, cottonwood, and sweet gum trees near banks — can encourage the animal to move on.

Installing water displacement devices, such as a perforated pipe like the Clemson Beaver Pond Leveler, eases water underneath the dam without calling the beaver’s attention to it, and helps prevent field flooding.

Bredlow’s self-devised method is to dig a trench in the ditch and partially fill it with larger rocks on the bottom, smaller rocks and gravel on top to create a low-water crossing. Then the dam the beaver builds on top of that is easily raked off with a backhoe.

David Wallace is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.

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