MADELINE CLARK and LISA SCAGLIOTTI
Leave it to beaver and you’ll end up with a mess. That’s why a Beaver Deceiver was installed near a culvert along the Munroe Brook on Webster Road last Friday, Aug. 23. The Shelburne Selectboard, residents and a Vermont-based nonprofit are hoping it’ll do the trick to humanely deter beavers from building a dam there.
The Beaver Deceiver project began after Shelburne resident Lisa Vear noticed the critters this summer and took action to save them.
One day, while on a walk along Webster Road, Vear noticed a felled tree with a lopsided cut. She was sure it wasn’t a chainsaw and peered over the edge of the street to look for beavers. Sure enough, there was one. She followed it as it swam under the bridge and out a culvert where at least three others were busy constructing a dam.
“The dam was huge, it was probably taller than me,” Vear said.
The beavers were about to block the culvert, which can cause flooding, or a backup that could break the dam and lead to erosion/the road washing out, according to Shelburne Water Quality Superintendent Chris Robinson.
Fearful the animals would be trapped and killed – a legal practice to deter them from clogging the works – Vear called Sharon MacNair, president of the Green Mountain Animal Defenders. Green Mountain Animal Defenders is a Vermont not-for-profit volunteer-run organization that protects wildlife. The organization searches for solutions that are ecologically sound and long-lasting, MacNair said.
The defenders, in turn, asked the Shelburne Selectboard to allow their organization to pay for a Beaver Deceiver device – which turned out to be about $2,000, MacNair said. The board approved it as a pilot deterrent project.
While this year’s beaver family wasn’t spared, Vear is hopeful that a new family will take up residency there once the device is in place to prevent them from damming the culvert.
Beaver Deceiver LLC owner and president Skip Lisle installed the device last week. Shelburne resident and former selectboard member Josh Dein volunteered his help.
Lisle invented the Beaver Deceiver in 1995. He has crafted them for towns across the nation and the world. Beaver behavior and water flow aren’t that different from one country to the next, he said.
“The problem is the same everywhere and the water acts the same everywhere,” Lisle said.
The Beaver Deceiver works by allowing water to flow through dams without damaging them, keeping the water level from rising. Because beavers use water levels as cues to continue building, this keeps both the dam and the water at a manageable level.
“The basic idea here is that it fools the beavers into thinking water has been stopped, to think their job is done,” selectboard chair Jerry Storey said.
At Tuesday night’s selectboard meeting, town officials have discussed the need for a town policy to address how to deal with beavers as well as wildlife in general. Storey has suggested modeling a beaver policy after a new policy enacted by the town of Stowe, saying he will work on a draft to share with the board soon.
On a broader level, MacNair, Dein and resident Jim White attended Tuesday’s meeting to urge the board to support an effort to address other wildlife issues. Growth of human development encroaches on wildlife habitat and increases the opportunities for people to come in contact with wild animals, particularly injured or sick animals, White said.
Board members said the recently updated town plan notes the importance of preserving natural resources, including wildlife habitat.
The board agreed to ask the town Natural Resources and Conservation Committee to take the lead on researching and developing a policy to address a variety of wildlife topics including habitat, interactions with humans, and protocols for handling injured animals.
“Maybe in the end this will be 90 percent education and 10 percent policy,” White said.
Back on Webster Road, with the deceiver in place, water still ponds, but in a manageable way, and beaver families can still erect their dams downstream. It’s important to protect beavers because they are a keystone species, Lisle said. Their dams and lodges play host to entire ecosystems.
“If you remove a keystone, the other stones fall in,” Lisle said. “They’re [beavers] disproportionately important because of the ecosystems they create.”
Plus, there are other benefits with the deceiver. According to Lisle, the device costs less in the long run than trapping and killing beavers year after year. It also spares towns the risk of placing traps in urban environments where people and pets abound.
“It’s a win-win,” Storey said. “We just couldn’t be more grateful for the generosity of GMAD (Green Mountain Animal Defenders).”
According to Storey, the selectboard is “more than willing” to show interested towns the new device, as well as to answer any questions they might have.
“Virtually every community in Vermont has the problem in one form or another,” he said, adding this technology could help resolve it humanely.
As for Munroe Brook, Storey said experts say beavers can take up residency any time. The town and neighbors will keep a look out for beavers.
“It could be any time we have a little visitor there,” he said.