Park city summer 2012 nature beaver nfdg7y

Beaver dams can have substantial benefits for local ecosystems

Beavers, those cute, giant rodents often called “nature’s architects,” are living up to their reputation in the Park City area. Their handiwork can often be seen along area streams. In most cases, beaver dams are harmless, even beneficial. Beaver ponds filter sediment and pollutants, making water below dams cleaner. Breached dams create fertile meadows and habitat for wildlife and trees, especially willows.

That’s all well and good, but not appreciated around residential areas with million-dollar homes surrounded by expensive landscaping. Park City’s beavers have been wreaking havoc: felling trees, building dams, flooding backyards, inundating infrastructure, and nearly closing highways. Last summer their dams backed spring runoff to within inches of Hwy 224, the main thoroughfare into Park City.

Hardest hit have been homes and property in Park Meadows, Silver Springs, and Snyderville Basin around the Swaner Nature Preserve. McLeod Creek, which meanders through or near all of these areas, is prime beaver habitat. Those prized aspen trees and willows so beloved by local landscapers and landowners are equally beloved by beavers and are, in fact, their preferred food and dam-building material. And when homeowners see their precious, pricey trees being dragged away and used to flood their yards, they get a tad upset.

Enter Rod Nielsen, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources technician who handles nuisance wildlife complaints in the Park City area. He urges local residents to be patient, first understanding that they’ve moved into the beavers’ homes, not the other way around. Then he offers strategies for learning to live with the sometimes inconvenient critters. 

Nielsen says neither lethal nor live traps are acceptable options for controlling beavers in the area. “You can’t set lethal traps along McLeod Creek because of all the people and their pets who recreate on the trail there. We sure don’t want somebody’s family pet getting caught in a trap.” Live-trapping isn’t an option because all available habitat in the area is occupied. “Beavers are very territorial and prolific. You could remove all of them around your property, and other young beavers would soon move in.

“There are some things you can do to protect your most valuable trees,” he counsels. “Double-wrap the trunks with chicken wire or hardware cloth up to a height of four feet. Anchor the wire with tent stakes or fence staples so beavers can’t get their noses under the wire.” Another ounce of prevention is to coat valuable tree trunks with a mixture of sand (about a cup) and latex paint (one gallon, any color). “They don’t like that gritty texture and should leave your trees alone. Also, occasionally let beavers take some less desirable trees on your property. You’ll be controlling the situation.” Finally, pond-levelers keep beaver ponds at manageable depths. They’re effective, inexpensive, and easy to build. Go to beaversolutions.com for more information. Contact Nielsen first about nuisance beaver problems at 801.491.5678 or rodnielsen@utah.gov.

In the meantime, if you’re walking along McLeod Creek trail or by the historic White Barn off Hwy 224, just go with the flow, marvel at the beaver ponds and dams, and enjoy the work of Park City’s gutsy little architects.

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