In recognizing the ecological importance of beaver influenced wetlands for a wide array of plants and animals as well as for their role in maintaining water quality, recharging aquifers and attenuating flood potential, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department (VFWD) endeavors to protect these ecosystems to the greatest extent possible. However, the dam building activities of beaver are frequently in conflict with human interests such as roads, potable water sources and other vital infrastructure. Historically, efforts to “resolve” such conflicts have been narrowly focused on the removal of beaver dams often resulting in the degradation of the wetland habitats and functions the VFWD strives to maintain and protect.
Vermont’s widespread and abundant beaver population spares no part of the state from the influence of beaver activity. In fact, conflicts continue to arise from all corners of the state with alarming frequency. Despite these conflicts, growing public awareness of and appreciation for the value of beaver influenced wetlands has resulted in an increased expectation that such conflicts be managed using ecologically sensitive practices. This is especially true in recognition of the role these wetland habitats play in helping to mitigate some of the worst predicted effects of our changing climate such as intensifying floods and loss of biological diversity. Given this trajectory, transportation agencies, municipalities and citizens of the state are increasingly faced with the need to resolve beaver conflicts in both a cost effective and ecologically sensitive manner in their efforts to avert potentially significant repair costs to and disruptions with our vital transportation infrastructure.
The Beaver Wetlands Conservation Project was initiated by the VFWD to give citizens and state/town road crews additional resources and options for resolving beaver conflicts as well as to provide opportunities for broadening the public’s understanding and appreciation of beaver and the wetland habitats they influence. Since its inception in 2000, project staff have employed an adaptive strategy for maintaining wetlands by helping citizens resolve beaver conflicts using various water control structures such as “baffles” and exclusion fences. Project staff have conducted over 500 site visits throughout the state and have installed over 300 water control structures influencing nearly 3,700 acres of wetland habitat. This presentation shares some of the remarkable successes of this project and details some of the challenges managers face.