Interning in Conflict Resolution: How do we co-exist with our wildlife neighbors

By Evora Glenn, MSc Student, Resource Conservation ,Department of Society and Conservation; BRIDGES Trainee

Beavers were once widespread in North America, with it estimated that 6 million thrived in our waterways before being trapped to near extinction in the 1800s. Unfortunately, removing beavers also removed their beneficial ecological impact, which includes cooler streams, greater habitat complexity, and increased biodiversity.

The same behaviors, such as felling trees and flooding sections of streams, that have huge ecological benefits can also conflict with the goals of landowners by threatening public safety and livelihoods. Without effective means of addressing these conflicts, landowners may perceive beaver presence as a threat and choose to lethally trap beavers to prevent future damage, even in cases where no current damage is occurring.

To gain the benefits of beaver activities throughout our watersheds, the National Wildlife Federation and the Clark Fork Coalition have partnered to support a pilot project focused on resolving these conflicts. As a Conflict Resolution Intern with the National Wildlife Federation, I was able to support the newly hired Conflict Resolution Beaver Tech, Elissa Chott, in a pilot project to build more acceptance for these crucial ecosystem engineers by effectively resolving the conflicts between their activities and the values of landowners.

Our main activities involved contacting landowners who have current conflicts, learning about their challenges, and installing a variety of technical solutions to address the threats posed by beaver activity. These solutions included tree fencing, pond levelers, beaver deceivers, and a variety of beaver fencing to prevent the damming of culverts or other pinch points along waterways. These technical solutions generally fall into two categories; preventing the felling of trees or preventing flooding.

These simple tools use our knowledge of beaver behavior to deter their activities in specific places where those activities are undesirable. Beaver deceivers, for example, enclose a drainage source for flooded ponds such that beavers cannot feel nor hear the running water. Without this sensory stimulus of a leak, the pond can be drained to a tolerable height without the beavers responding with additional damming activity.

Techniques to prevent tree felling and flooding were implemented at a variety of highly visible public and private locations and coupled with informational materials to build understanding in our communities around the ways we can co-exist with beaver. Through this pilot project, it has been a privilege to not only put these techniques into action, but to demonstrate the potential benefits of this program as it continues to refine and expand this approach to human-wildlife conflict.

PHOTOS:

  • Beaver fencing around a previously chewed tree. This new fencing deters beavers from continuing to chew on large trees, which can become unstable and pose a risk to property and human safety, and redirects them to chew on smaller willows.
  • Pond leveler (the black tubing), and two structures of fencing. The goal with this technique is to allow beavers to dam on the fence around the culvert, but retain an unblocked drainage pipe to maintain the pond below flooding levels. 
  • Elissa Chott,  Conflict Resolution Beaver Tech (at left in red flannel) and Elyssa Kerr, Executive Director of Beavers Northwest (at right) explaining the technique and fielding questions from stakeholders during our day long demonstration project.

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