Thanks to its streams, rivers and lakes, Colorado is home to a robust beaver population. Beavers are habitat engineers whose dams slow water, which recharges groundwater, reduces erosion, provides a barrier to wildfires and provides ecological benefits. However, it is those same skills that can cause conflicts with humans like impediments to the delivery of irrigation water, blocking of culverts and flooding of roads. As more people move into traditional wildlife habitat, encounters with beavers are likely to increase. While an important part of our state’s ecosystem, beaver behaviors also pose challenges to the needs of a growing population and recreation economy.
Benefits of Beavers
From an ecological perspective, beavers are good for watersheds. Beavers cutting aspen, willow and other trees will cause the trees to regenerate. Their dams expand the floodplain into a drainage which allows them to safely reach food further from the original stream channel. This slowing and expanding of water in the drainage, in turn increases riparian plants, which previously could only grow directly along the stream since the uplands were too dry. The Riparian is one of the more diverse habitat types in Colorado, so beavers can help improve and expand it.
CPW Wetlands Program Priority Status
In 2021, CPW Leadership approved the beaver as a Wetlands Program priority species
. This means that wetland/riparian restoration projects that are designed to benefit beavers and their habitats will be considered a higher priority for program funding through the annual wetlands grant cycle
. These projects typically involve installation of beaver dam analogs (BDAs) or post-assisted log structures (PALS) as incentives for beavers to adopt them and construct and maintain dams at those sites, or reestablishing woody plant species (such as willows) preferred by beavers. Program funds are not authorized for moving beavers, but are an important funding source statewide for improving beaver habitat. This priority status demonstrates that CPW recognizes the importance of beavers in maintaining healthy wetland and riparian habitats that are important to many wildlife species in Colorado.
Challenges of Living with Beavers
In the process of performing these ecological behaviors, beavers can also pose challenges to homeowners and those recreating on public lands. They can dam up waterways and culverts and cut down ornamental trees. This could cause homeowners to have flooded buildings or trees cut down.
Public Lands & Recreation
On public lands such as Colorado’s state parks that have equipment for monitoring water quality or reservoir activity, beaver proximity to flood prone areas may damage important equipment.
Highways and Roads
Many of our highways and roads in Colorado follow river drainages. Beaver dams adjacent to roads can cause flooding and erosion of roads, making them unsafe.
How to Protect Your Property from Beavers
- Trees: Wrap individual trees with fencing or mix a concoction of five ounces of mason sand with one quart of exterior latex paint and apply it to the first 3 ½ feet of the trees.
- Use electric fencing around culverts
- Utilize special pipes and grates to lessen the problems caused by their dams
Trapping beavers is a short term solution and will not necessarily solve the problems of homeowners. Passed in 1996, Amendment 14 bans the use of foothold and kill traps throughout the state. The agricultural exemption allows farmers and ranchers to trap beavers causing damage to their crops and property during one 30-day period each year. It is illegal for private individuals to move and release live-caught beavers without a permit from CPW.
When is Relocation a Consideration?
While relocation of beavers from conflict areas to suitable habitat can be considered, it is often not the perfect solution. Factors such as the seasonal timing of relocation, quality and quantity of existing food at the relocation site, presences of disease in the beaver such as tularemia, risk of transportation of aquatic nuisance species or amphibian diseases between drainages and potential future conflicts at the release site must all be considered. Improperly relocated beavers can travel up to 60 miles in order to return to their original home territory, so release sites must be evaluated with success in mind. Recent work suggests that beaver survival and establishment success at relocation sites is often very low based partly on a lack of consideration of the above factors.