Town seeks OK to destroy Diamond Hill Park beavers

Town seeks OK to destroy Diamond Hill Park beavers

CUMBERLAND - A family of beavers, who've built themselves a lodge on Sylvie's Brook near the baseball fields at Diamond Hill Park, are causing so much tree damage and some flooding, says Director of Parks and Recreation Mike Crawley, that he's called in Critter Control of Greenville to trap and kill them.

But a wildlife specialist with the Department of Environmental Management, Charlie Brown, is telling The Breeze that Cumberland is moving too quickly. Special permits, considered on a case-by-case basis, are needed before any fur animals like beavers can be removed.

As of Wednesday morning, Crawley was awaiting a phone call from Brown, he told The Breeze.

Critter Control is licensed by the DEM to handle wildlife concerns and Crawley said he is looking to it to secure that special permit.

Crawley said he hasn't yet negotiated a price from the company for the beaver removal work.

The beaver lodge is easy to spot in the brook approximately across from a soccer net. An expanse of water separates it from the Saturday morning baseball crowds.

A second one seemed to have been forming further south, although its branches were pulled apart.

Nearby, a young tree stump displays the unmistakable chew marks left by a beaver's trademark incisors.

It's only one of many trees that Crawley says the beavers have taken down. Many more have toppled, he said, because they're now standing in a growing expanse of dammed-up water.

Crawley, whose office in the park is just a stone's throw from the beaver lodge, says the beavers arrived about two years ago and complaints began afterward.

"We can't have them cutting down all the trees in the park," he said. "This has been going for more than a year and it's getting worse."

Because a small pond has formed, some have expressed fears that water will eventually encroach on the athletic complex, he noted.

"They're doing a lot of damage over here," he said. "Something has to be done. I don't like to see killing them but we have to do something to protect the park."

Charlie Brown, who's a principal wildlife biologist for the state in the management of furbearers, says that beavers, trapped to near extinction hundreds of years ago, have made a comeback in New England.

Beavers were first spotted in Rhode Island in the western Coventry area in the 1970s.

They've since moved into nearly all the river watersheds of the state, and just within the past several years got a foothold in the lower Blackstone River watershed, says Brown. Sylvie's Brook is a tributary to the Diamond Hill Reservoir.

Brown calls the return of the beaver one of Rhode Island's wildlife success stories along with the deer and wild turkeys.

But he concedes that beavers are returning to a region where "roads, culverts and infrastructure are not compatible with beaver activity."

His own agency devotes more resources than ever before to maintaining areas where beavers have taken up residence. Brown hasn't visited Cumberland's colony, but says it likely contains two adults, two kits born last spring and two babies that would have been born in March or April.

Beavers care for offspring for two seasons, he said, and then eject them when they reach the age of 2.

About the Sylvie's Brook lodge, he said, "At some point, some 2-year-old beaver showed up there with a mate, built a lodge and stayed."

Weighing in at 60 pounds as adults, they're active all year round, hidden from predators by their underground lodges that can only be reached by swimming under water.

They live on various plant life, including cambium found in the bark of trees, and are especially fond of young birches.

Brown says it's against the law to relocate wild animals like beavers for several reasons, including that they cause problems for wildlife living in a new location, or they return to the old location, or they are replaced by new animals.

Landowners who have permission to remove them must destroy them. Permission is typically granted in cases of public safety, such as beavers blocking a wellhead, or property destruction.

A controlled trapping season, which ran November to March, is offered with permits.

Springtime trapping isn't allowed, he said, because the adults would be taken away from offspring depending on them.

Tuesday saw the Critter Control's Chris Boudreau return to the park to collect a trap - still empty - that he'd left the day before.

Boudreau told The Breeze he was picking up the trap because the town "had issues to resolve," while Crawley said he hadn't yet authorized any trapping.

Boudreau said he'd used no bait in the trap.

One of those objecting is Cumberland High School teacher Rob Thurston, who was hiking the park area this week when he spotted the Critter Control truck.

Thurston is arguing there are better solutions than trying to remove the beavers. He's willing to help build a beaver baffler - long pipes that channel water from the dams into the stream in a way that doesn't disturb the beavers. That's the solution used in Saratoga, N.Y., when a beaver's dam flooded a walking trail rendering it useless.

Thurston suggests this might be a good project for an Eagle Scout.

An online video from Buchanan, MI describes how to install a similar beaver dam leveler.

And a "Flexible Pond Leveler" product is available from a Southampton, Mass., company called Beaver Solutions.

Thurston suggested that the new "beaver pond" likely falls under the protection of state wetlands division and said he imagines that any pond leveler construction will need a permit.