State culls too-busy Beebe beavers

AUSTERLITZ–Beebe Hill State Forest, 2,018 acres of woods in Austerlitz, is the site of a beaver kill sanctioned and carried out under the auspices of the state Department of Environmental Conservation. These critters, the largest rodents in North America, are simply too good at what they do best, namely, build dams and live in the resultant ponds.

The Sierra Club calls them ”the ultimate ecosystem engineers.” They create habitats beneficial to a multitude of wildlife, reshape watersheds, recharge aquifers, and help address drought and pollution.

Michael Clark, DEC Region IV wildlife manager, described the permit process and the rationale for beaver kills in a recent interview. In the case of Beebe Hill State Forest, it is flooding of local, county and state roads that led to this current eradication effort. If one tries to get these industrious creatures to relocate by removing a dam, overnight they will replace what was removed and stay in place. They are industrious and persistent to a fault.

One study in Pennsylvania reported the top five complaints about beavers were plugged culverts, flooded roads, cutting trees, flooded fields, and invaded farm ponds.

Mr. Clark said that New York no longer tracks the number of beavers being culled, nor does the state require reports on results.

Beavers have played an important part in our history as they were trapped for their meat, testicles, secretions, and, of course, their fur for beaver hats and coats. The Beaver Wars led by the Iroquois Confederacy from 1640 to 1701, were among the most brutal on the North American continent. The Iroquois were pushing other tribes west to expand their territory and increase trade of beaver and deer with Dutch, English and French settlers.

Once numbering an estimated 400 million living in 250-million beaver ponds in North America today number somewhere between 6- and 15 million today.

The animals average about 60 pounds when fully grown, measure 23” to 39” in body length, plus tails 8” to 12” long. Rarely seen, as they are nocturnal, a pair mate for life and teach their offspring who will move on to find their own home. Beavers are vegetarian and even consume cellulose in wood.

Susan Haag, Austerlitz town clerk, says that complaints to her office about beavers are rare–an occasional concern about a beaver pond causing flooding or other damages.

The Columbia Land Conservancy has had no reports of concerns about beavers and was not aware of the beaver kill in Beebe Hill State Forest.

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