I had a great conversation with Jeff Boland-Prom of Midwest Beaver Solutions and his son Edwin about beavers in Illinois yesterday. Jeff trained at the Beaver Institute on how to properly install flow devices and is a member in good standing of the Beaver Institute's International BeaverCorps Association. Here’s what they told me:
One big challenge to changing the culture around trapping and killing of beavers in Illinois is that many conflicts occur on farms. If beavers were allowed into irrigation channels and drainage ditches, they would work their beaver magic and create more water--by raising the water table, slowing down streams, and capturing more storm water in their waterways. This would prove beneficial during a drought such as the one Illinois experienced in 2010.
However, traditionally and understandably, the farming community is anti-beaver. When beavers move into drainage ditches, they eat the corn up to 100 feet of each side of the ditch and sometimes dam up the waterway. Also, sometimes farmers plant a row of crops close to the waterway and accidentally drive over a beaver-created structure, which can damage the farm equipment. So an informational campaign is needed that would educate farmers about the benefits of beavers to farmland, convince them to leave a wider buffer around waterways, and let them know how flow devices would alleviate beaver dam problems. Perhaps farmers would be enticed by some sort of compensation for lost crops. Jeff, Edwin, and I talked about the best ways to reach out to the farming community and find a few who would be willing to give beavers a chance.
We also talked about the flooding problems that rural municipalities face when beavers build dams in creeks. South of Chicago, a municipality might pay $200 per beaver to trap and kill, although the further south you go in the state, the cheaper the trapping costs. In the long run, it is less expensive to install a flow device than to keep trapping and killing each year. He includes a two-year maintenance agreement in his standard package so that the municipality will have a chance to see that the flow device works. His company offers three models. The most expensive is a keystone fence trapezoid, which keeps beavers from building dams at all. Second is a fence and pipe that allows them to build dams but doesn’t let the area flood. The least expensive model, a pond leveler, is less impactful, more beneficial to the beaver, and requires less maintenance.
Finally, Jeff and Edwin suggested that we talk to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which holds responsibility for making our rivers healthier. From what they understand, the IEPA’s future waterway restoration plans rely on human based restoration rather than beaver based restoration. Human based restoration is much more expensive than creating habitat conditions that suit beavers and allowing them to do the work, and the result is a waterway that is not as healthy or beneficial for the ecosystem as one engineered by beavers.