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April 19, 2012

Playing Tricks on Beavers Puts a Stop to Beaver Dam Flooding

"Beaver deceiver" installed at youth camp in Virginia is a humane answer to a watery problem

  • Beavers' natural instincts to dam up running water can cause flooded roads. iStockphoto.com/kawisign

  • The HSUS's John Griffin and Patrick Brothers begin installing the beaver deceiver. Stephanie Boyles Griffin/The HSUS

  • The pipe allows water to flow through the dam without destroying it. Stephanie Boyles Griffin/The HSUS

  • In the end, the camp's flooding problem is solved and the beavers still have their dam. Stephanie Boyles Griffin/The HSUS

by Julie Hauserman

It’s no easy task to outsmart wild beavers when the industrious creatures are focused on their impressive engineering handiwork. So when beavers dammed a stream and flooded a road at Camp Selah Ministries youth camp in Sutherlin, Virginia, the camp’s director decided to call in the experts.

Nobody at the faith-based camp wanted to harm the beavers, but the camp did need to find a way to coexist without re-routing its road network.

“Beavers are certainly one of God’s precious creatures, but they have proven challenging for Camp Selah,” said Sallye Hardy, chairman of the board of directors at Camp Selah Ministries. “So in an effort to be good stewards of the property and these little fellows, we are partnering with The Humane Society of the United States to reach a ‘no-kill’ solution.”

Enter Stephanie Boyles Griffin, The Humane Society of the United States’ senior director of Wildlife Response, Innovations and Services and John Griffin, who directs Humane Wildlife Services, a for-fee wildlife conflict resolution service that is a program of The HSUS.

On April 14, the two joined with colleague Patrick Brothers to try to solve the camp’s beaver dam problem without harming the beavers.

Dealing with a wild animal problem? Learn what to do »

Why do beavers build dams?

For years, humans have tried to solve conflicts with beavers by trapping the animals and tearing down the dams. But it isn’t a long-term solution. Beavers are still attracted to the area and will rebuild their dams, creating an expensive and ongoing maintenance issue. Plus, the dams fill a critical ecological niche—preventing erosion, filtering water, providing habitat for many other wild creatures, and keeping ecosystems healthy.

Under-the-road culverts are particularly irresistible to beavers, who are attracted to the sound and feel of running water. Culverts concentrate and amplify the stream flow, and busy beavers are instinctively compelled to dam the culverts up.

A merciful fix

To solve the camp’s problem, The HSUS team first cut a notch in the dam and then installed a flexible corrugated plastic pipe device called a "Castor Master” pond leveler, named after the beaver’s scientific genus, Castor.

When the beavers hear and feel water running through the pipe, they try to repair the dam at the site where the notch is. But water still flows through the ends of the pipe (which are fitted with special filters so beavers can’t dam those up, too.) The device ingeniously prevents flooding and keeps the upstream water level deep enough for the camp’s needs.

“We sneak water past the beavers so they can’t figure out how the water’s going from one side of the dam to the other,” said Boyles Griffin, who did her graduate thesis on water control strategies for beaver dams.

“The beavers will be able to stay there,” Boyles Griffin said. “It’s enough water to keep both the camp happy and the beavers happy. And that colony will continue to give those campers joy by staying there."

Leave it to humans

Boyles Griffin says the method is so successful they get new requests for it every day. So far, she says, she’s helped install some 50 of the systems in Virginia’s coastal plain.

“This is exactly the kind of solution that we're committed to bringing to communities: solutions that work and don’t harm animals," added John Griffin.

At Camp Selah, they’ll be watching and hoping for the best. And the new system will be a living testimony to the camp's primary tool of ministry: embracing all of God’s creation.

“We are really grateful that there are people who are compassionate and care about animals and their habitat,” Sallye Hardy, the camp’s executive director, told her local newspaper, the Gazette Virginian. “We hope it will be good for the beavers, good for the land, good for the water, and good for the children.” 

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