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Sunday, May 2, 2021, Part 2: Illinois' Beaver Management Policies Are Behind the Times

The IDNR, including wildlife biologist Nicky Strahl, has been responding to all inquiries about the Glenview beavers with a statement. The IDNR has some language in its statement that we believe is inaccurate. The statement reads in part: "Illinois' beaver population is very healthy so, unfortunately, conflict with beaver is common. Beaver are rarely content with water levels and are instinctively driven to create dams, leading water movement to slow and levels to rise, especially during rain events. While this can be a good thing in natural or wild habitats, it's detrimental in urban and non-traditional habitat settings. In fact, it almost always leads to flooding of infrastructure and property, like roads, culverts, ditches homes and businesses. It also may lead to destruction of trees and other nearby plant life and bank collapse or large holes around bodies of water which can be dangerous to humans or pets." (Image of statement attached)

Here is our fact checking on the IDNR statement

1. Healthy population size. What criteria is the IDNR using to determine that the size of the Illinois beaver population is "very healthy"? Is the IDNR's criteria the amount of conflict with humans? What is the estimated size of the Illinois beaver population, how is it measured and how often, how many "nuisance" beavers are trapped and killed each year, and how does that number compare to the estimated number of beavers?

2. Instinctive drive to build dams. It is not true that beavers inevitably build dams. They build dams to ensure water is deep enough for their needs.

3. Inevitability of flooding. Almost every flooding and tree cutting problem caused by beavers can be remediated with a properly designed and installed flow device and by wrapping trees. It is not inevitable that beavers will cause flooding. The Glenview Beavers Fan Club has located a company here in the state of Illinois, Midwest Beaver Mitigation, whose owner received training on designing and installing flow devices from the Beaver Institute as a Beaver Wetland Professional, and is a member in good standing in the Beaver Institute's International BeaverCorps Association. With proper foresight, flooding problems can be avoided.

4. Benefits of beavers in urban settings. In Chapter 7, "Urban Beaver Population Management," in "The Beaver Restoration Guidebook: Working with Beaver to Restore Streams, Wetlands, and Floodplains," the authors write: "Problematic behaviors often preclude beaver from consideration as a potential asset in urban settings. However, their ability to adapt to diverse habitat types make them a valuable species to consider in urban stream restoration. While there is broad recognition that beaver can block undersized culverts, flood roads, or harm landscaping, the ecological advantages are less apparent. A review of the literature confirms hydrological, ecological and sociological reasons to consider incorporation of beaver into an urban landscape. Modern tools for beaver management provide for this opportunity while concurrently maintaining public safety, infrastructure and landscaping."

Even in an urban setting, beavers provide ecological benefits. Beaver dams in urban settings can provide benefits similar to those in rural areas, including storing surface and groundwater, regulating flow, improving stream complexity, modifying nutrient cycling, storing sediment, and increasing biodiversity, while also restoring stream resilience. While beavers do bring the risk of tree damage or flooding, modern tools for beaver management allow for the protection of public safety, infrastructure, and landscaping

Because beavers are becoming increasingly common in suburban areas, they offer an educational opportunity as well. The charismatic mammals engage the public with the natural environment and also demonstrate species interdependence. Urban beavers provide first-hand lessons about habitat, biodiversity, territory and trophic cascades. Children can see with their own eyes how the population of birds, frogs, turtles, and other wildlife respond to construction of a beaver dam.

All of this is to say that the State of Illinois's beaver management policies are behind the times. We plan to launch a public awareness campaign so that people come to understand the immense benefits that beavers bring to our ecosystems, and also know about the ways to effectively remediate flooding problems and tree cutting problems that beavers can cause. If humans would create more wetlands and allow more beavers to live in our lakes, rivers, and streams, it is no exaggeration to say that it would help us solve the climate crisis. And it looks like we need to start educating the IDNR.

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