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Managing Beaver Ponds for Waterfowl

Prior to 1850, beaver were found in every county in Mississippi, as well as the Southeast. This critter served as a source of income and food for early settlers. Eventually, heavy trapping and hunting led to the near extinction of beaver in Mississippi by the early 1900's.

During the 1930's, at the direction of the Mississippi Legislature, the Mississippi Game and Fish Commission began restoration of the beaver from several remnant populations across the state. At that time in history, beaver populations were very low, pelts were in demand, and were bringing high prices. In addition, land was cheap and there was virtually no market for timber. Beaver restoration was undertaken to restore, what was at the time, a valuable native furbearer and a potential source of income for economically-depressed farmers. The agency's efforts were successful and were supported by the Legislature and landowners throughout the Magnolia State.

Conditions and circumstances of the next few decades changed the way in which the public and wildlife biologists viewed the beaver. An improved economy, the movement of people from rural Mississippi to towns and cities, the growing economic importance of the timber industry, the drastic decline in beaver pelt prices and the accompanying decrease in trapping contributed to the rapid expansion of beaver populations. Beaver damage increased and, more often than not, landowners began to see the beaver as a liability rather than an asset.

Preferably, beaver control would be affected through sport and commercial trapping by licensed trappers at no cost to the state. In an attempt to use that source of labor, the Mississippi Game and Fish Commission even referred inquiring landowners to available and willing trappers. However, the economic incentives could not encourage beaver trapping to the extent required for control. The time and effort required to properly process a beaver hide and the low prices paid for pelts has made beaver trapping generally unattractive to trappers. Hence, efforts to create a better market for southern beaver pelts have been unsuccessful to date. So far, the preferred "free market" method of beaver control has proved incapable of meeting the tremendous task at hand.

Responding to constituent complaints and requests, the 1989 Mississippi Legislature created the Mississippi Beaver Control Advisory Board. That Board, comprised of the heads of the cooperating state agencies, was mandated to develop a program which would ensure the control of beaver damage throughout Mississippi.

In cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service/Wildlife Services program (formerly Animal Damage Control), the Advisory Board developed the Beaver Control Assistance Program (BCAP). The BCAP is administered by U.S.D.A. Wildlife Services and is designed to provide assistance with beaver damage to private, county, and state-owned lands.

Invitations to enroll in the BCAP are annually sent to all counties. Counties currently enrolled (Table 1) receive priority for renewing their contracts. Any available slots are awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis. The annual participation fee is $2,000 per county.

Wildlife Services provides help through technical assistance and direct control. Technical assistance involves providing advice, recommendations, information or materials for use in managing beaver damage. Wildlife Services' personnel also train individuals or groups who would like to conduct their own beaver damage management program. Direct control is conducted by the agency's staff when problems caused by beaver are too complex or difficult for any one agency, group or individual to resolve.

According to Kris Godwin, Wildlife Services' State Director for Mississippi, "In cooperation with the Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Wildlife Services assists landowners who want to enhance beaver impoundments for the benefit of waterfowl and other wetland wildlife. Through field assistance and landowner contacts, Wildlife Services is able to construct and install a beneficial water control device called the Clemson Beaver Pond Leveler."

The Clemson Beaver Pond Leveler (Figure 1) was developed to meet two goals. The first goal was to suppress the problem of flooding agricultural and timber lands. The second goal was to maintain or improve some of the benefits derived from beaver ponds and associated plant communities while preventing extensive flood damage. "The leveler does not negate the need for direct control of beaver populations where problems are both extensive and severe; however, it should reduce this need. The leveler offers the opportunity to get along with, and in some cases, derive benefits from the existence of a small population of beavers," continued Godwin.

According to Rob Ballinger, Field Biologist with the Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation, "The pond leveler intake device is designed to minimize the probability that current flow can be detected by beavers, therefore minimizing dam construction. Devices tested at about 30 sites in South Carolina during the past several years have shown that beavers were unable to detect a submerged intake device at the source for pond water loss. The intake device should be installed so that it is always below the water surface even when the pond level is at a minimum."

A second stimulus that causes beavers to build dams and fill culverts and standpipes is the sound of falling or trickling water. When the outlet end of the leveler assemblage can be below water on the downstream side of a beaver dam, problems should not develop. At test sites where standpipes have been used and waterflows out in a fountain-like fashion, beavers have made no attempt to stop the flow of water. Standpipes regulate water levels in ponds and are essential where periodic drawdown and reflooding is desirable.

"The Clemson Beaver Pond Leveler should help reduce flooding, manipulate pond levels, solve road culvert plugging problems and prevent filling of standpipes and culverts used as water control structures in fish ponds. However, the leveler is not a panacea for eliminating all beaver problems," stated the Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation biologist.

Landowners residing in counties which participate in the BCAP are entitled to the services of an Wildlife Services Specialist. Landowners are not assessed a fee if the work conducted on their property reduces beaver damage to a state highway or a county road in a participating county. For work that benefits only private property, the landowner is charged a nominal fee. Since the inception of the BCAP, landowner fees have ranged from $5.00 to $1,095, with the average fee equalling $95.00. Based upon a Wildlife Services Specialist's availability, assistance may be provided at a higher fee to landowners residing in non-BCAP counties.

For information concerning the Clemson Pond Leveler or BCAP, contact Kris Godwin, Mississippi's State Director with Wildlife Services at (662) 325-3014 or Bo Sloan, District Supervisor with Wildlife Services at (662) 686-3157 or Rob Ballinger, Field Biologist with the Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation at (662) 686-3375.

 

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