Powsner Beaver Dam

Jacob Powsner stares at a beaver lodge, which now sits above water. The large dam at the top of West Road in Chittenden ruptured Saturday night, sending a large flow of water through residential areas.

CHITTENDEN — A beaver dam built along a stream off West Road failed Saturday evening, but didn’t cause much damage.

Road Foreman Elmer Wheeler Jr. said Monday the dam briefly flooded three homeowners’ backyards and caused minor damage to the road, which was easily fixed. The dam itself is on private property, he said. This is the first time that Wheeler is aware of that a beaver dam has caused any problems to public property.

“There are a lot of beaver dams in Vermont,” said Tyler Brown, furbearer project technician for the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It’s hard to drive around in Vermont without seeing some sign of beaver activity.”

For the past 20 years, the state has had a program for managing conflicts between humans and beavers. Brown said the animals have been known to block road culverts, and their dams can back water up onto farmland.

He said the state has an online guide for people with beaver problems. It can be found at https://bit.ly/2WfJwJ9, or by going to the department’s website, www.vtfishandwildlife.com, clicking the “wildlife tab” and then the tab labeled, “Help with Nuisance Wildlife.”

Brown said there’s a number of options landowners have when it comes to managing beavers. If they’re blocking a culvert, an exclusion fence can be installed. If the dam is causing water to back up into an area it’s not wanted, such as a home or cropland, a “beaver baffle,” can be used. The baffles are devices that let water escape the dam, and can’t be circumvented by the beavers.

Brown said the advantage of using baffles is the water goes down, but beavers get to stay. He said beaver ponds are rather important to the wetland ecosystem. Other species rely on them for food and reproduction. Beavers, who primarily eat tree bark, but will also go after cattail roots and bulbs, will move on once an area’s food supply is exhausted. Their abandoned dams then deteriorate, leaving nutrient-rich sediment behind for new plant growth, and eventually the beavers come back.

He said it’s best to check with the state before altering a beaver dam, as there may be wetland regulations in play. Nuisance beavers can also be trapped out of season by a licensed trapper, Brown said, however it’s preferred all trapping be done within designated seasons.

Brown said the state gets about 300 calls or emails per year from Vermonters having conflicts with beavers. Rarely is damage caused by a broken dam, he said. Beaver complaints tend to rise when water levels are high. He said he’s gotten more calls this spring than is typical. Complaints drop off in the summer when things are drier.

He said Tuesday he’d heard of the dam in Chittenden, but didn’t receive a complaint about it.

The state doesn’t actively monitor beaver dams, Brown said. Official response is based on complaints received. The largest dam he’s come across in Vermont was 12 feet high and 50 feet across, but they’ve been known to be much larger. According to Guinness World Records, the longest beaver dam ever measured was 2,788 feet. It was found in Alberta, Canada, in 2007.

keith.whitcomb

@rutlandherald.com

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