Wednesday, January 15, 2014

TOP STORY >> Beaver problems gnaw Lonoke County officials

Leader editor

Lonoke County officials remain divided over the price of bounties paid for beavers and whether the bounties are even effective in preventing roads from flooding and becoming damaged.

JP Adam Sims, who has received complaints from residents about floods blocking roads, recently revived the debate. He was so spurred to action that he even arranged for Leader staff writer Jeffrey Smith to join him on a plane ride to see the damage that beavers are causing in the Furlow community. Our reporter also went on a four-wheeler ride and slogged through the mini reservoirs the beavers built to get a close look at their dams, which back up water after a downpour.

It was the most impressive outing that any justice of the peace has arranged to explain his perspective to us in The Leader’s 27 years.

Sims says the bounty should be raised from $20 to $30 to entice trappers. He thinks, with a higher bounty, trappers will do their work even in summertime when they tend to avoid the snakes that are most active then. 

On the other side is Lonoke County Judge Doug Erwin, who is known to watch the county’s budget like a shopkeeper minding the register. He rightly suspects that trappers are bringing in beavers from neighboring counties so they can collect more money. He also doubts that an additional $10 will get trappers out year-round.

After about six months of paying $30 per beaver, Erwin decided the benefits weren’t worth the extra money, so he reduced the fee. The program spends about $10,000 to $15,000 annually.

Beavers tend to flood roads in the Bland Chapel area and Lilly Road in northern Lonoke County, Ray Young Road near Carlisle, Young Road and Cypress Creek near South Kerr Road, several roads off North Kerr Road, the Snake Island area and Rayburn Road in the southeast part of the county and Lingo Road near Furlow, according to a road-maintenance manager.  

But several roads that are near creeks or sloughs — a description of nearly all county roads — can be flooded by beavers, officials say.

The French traders who were the first Europeans to arrive in Arkansas during the 17th Century came here to find beaver pelts, a valuable commodity and bartering tool in its day.

Beavers thrived in the swamps here, which were drained beginning a couple of centuries ago to create some of the most fertile farmland in the world. And they’ve been busy ever since working to return it swamps.

By the end of the start of 20th Century beavers were nearly extinct in the state, but were successfully reintroduced in the 1920s. The French traders would be astonished to know that more than 300 years later, the tree-gnawing rodents still captivate us. 

Here’s hoping that we’ll still be talking about these pesky critters centuries from now. But what can be done about them in the meantime?

Dynamiting dams, a method once used by the county, doesn’t work well because beavers can rebuild them very quickly, sometimes within a day or two. Other than trapping, the University of Arkansas’ Division of Agriculture Research and Extension recommends a Clemson beaver pond leveler, which “works on the principle that the detection of water currents stimulates beaver to quickly plug the source of water drainage. The leveler consists of a perforated PVC pipe that is encased in heavy-gauge hog wire,” according to a report published by the extension service called “Beaver Damage Prevention and Control Methods,” which is available online.

The device can prevent extensive flooding, while actually retaining some of the ecological benefits that beaver ponds produce. (The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission credits beaver dams with creating perfect conditions for duck hunting, but officials understandably aren’t interested in having prime waterfowl habitats blocking access to county roads.)

The Clemson leveler “is placed upstream of a dam or blocked culvert in the deepest part of the stream or water flow. It is connected to non-perforated sections of PVC pipe, which are run through the dam or culvert to a water-control structure downstream. Because beavers do not detect flowing water as it drains, they do not block the pipe.

“The leveler works best in relatively flat terrain with short-term flooding. The leveler will not work where water volumes exceed the capacity of the pipe, such as periods of unusually high rainfall or where steep terrain may cause excessive flooding,” the report tactfully concludes, informing readers that it might not always work.

Another recommendation from the extension service is a three-log drain made of hardwood logs, which are placed perpendicular through the beaver dam. Two logs are laid on top of a board with the upstream ends slightly separated. The third log goes on top, forming a funnel.

Tips for landowners from the Forest Service sound even less hopeful: “Removal of dams, lodges, or both, is probably the most used, but least effective method of discouraging beavers. The usual response is a repaired dam or lodge by the following day….Live-trapping and relocating beavers is expensive. It is also difficult because another site that is not already inhabited is usually difficult to find. Some states have trapping programs, but these are generally small programs and should not be depended upon to solve a local landowner’s problems.”

In other words, landowners may have to pay a professional trapper more than the county does. A representative in the county’s Soil Conservation District office told us there are about 12 to 20 trappers active in the county at any given time.

To get paid, they must turn in the animal’s right front paw and part of the tail. There’s no limit to how many they can turn in for bounties. But even if a trapper can get 100 beavers in a year, that’s only $2,000 at the current rate. Trappers can sell the fur and carcass after getting the bounty. A buyer in North Little Rock told us he is paying $9 to $15 per beaver carcass, which means an additional $900 to $1,500 for a total of $3,500 in a year. 

Good supplemental income, but only the most dedicated hobbyists would regularly risk snakebites to pursue that kind of money. And it’s unlikely that an extra $1,000 would make a significant difference and if it would really help to control flooding.

Placing gate covers on culverts that beavers frequently block is one preventative measure that county officials say they’ve had good results using. But the county needs to find a way to increase its number of trappers and have them target those problem areas instead of the catch-them-anywhere plan it uses now.

For beginner trappers, the Game and Fish Commission links to a free online U.S. Trapper Education Course on its website at The same site also includes a free trapper-education manual for Arkansas. The trapping permit, which can be obtained online, is free for Arkansas residents.

And for landowners, there is a nuisance wildlife registry that trappers use to find places to ply their trade. But only two Lonoke County residents — one in Cabot and one in England — have  registered at and both list beavers as the nuisance.

The underutilized registry aims to attract trappers to private property  being damaged by furbearers. Trappers must get permission before going onto the owner’s property though. So just being on the registry isn’t an open invitation to trappers.

There’s more to the great outdoors than just hunting and fishing. It would be nice to see  justices of the peace, and even the county judge, set some traps, perhaps even make a friendly competition of it and donate the bounties to charity.

The Clemson leveler and three-log drain will also be worth a try. But even then, the experts warn it’s impossible to catch them all.