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Whidbey's beaver population: residents chew on problem, seek county help
Some residents believe the county could be doing more about the island’s beaver problem, but the solutions are not always clear cut.
“It’s always been an issue and no one really addresses it,” said Karen Krug, owner of the Spoiled Dog Winery farm near Maxwelton Creek.
At a recent public hearing on the county’s Fish and Wildlife Habitat Conservation Areas update, Krug suggested to county commissioners that they make it an obligation for people to manage the beavers on their property.
The county’s lack of enforcement on beaver control creates a risk for the people downstream if a dam breaches, and for those upstream as areas flood and overtake valuable farmland, Krug said.
Some cases are extreme, such as that of Long Family Farm on Ewing Road, which is located within the Maxwelton valley. Beavers are believed partially responsible for the flooding of more than 40 acres of summer pasture.
“We’ve been farming it for 100 years, and it’s always been bone dry,” farmer owner Leland Long said.
The flooding may also be the result of unmaintained drainage ditches on other people’s property through the valley, he said. The area was drained for agricultural use by his grandfather in 1912.
Connie Bowers, Island County public works deputy director, said the county deals with occasional conflicts with beavers but not often.
“Our approach has differed depending on the site conditions and situation,” Bowers said.
In some cases, the county has relocated beaver that were living in a construction area, or installed “beaver deceivers” which allow the water to flow through without disturbing the beavers or their dam. In another instance, the county installed an overflow culvert which limits water build-up in areas that tend to flood.
Krug said that it seems like the county doesn’t care or is ignoring the “abnormal amount of beavers in Maxwelton Valley and Glendale.”
“I’m not trying to eradicate the beavers,” Krug said. “But we need to manage them when they’re causing a problem.”
Krug said that without proactive measures the county could experience another beaver-related disaster like the one in Glendale in 2009.
After a beaver was killed, its upstream dam was no longer maintained, a culvert was clogged and the water eventually broke through, causing a mud slide that roared into the tiny waterfront community, severely damaging a number of homes and buildings.
Glendale resident Lorinda Kay said her home was rendered unlivable for three months after floodwaters entered her home and debris broke water lines.
“The neighborhood was surrounded in muck,” Kay said.
With the dam gone, however, those Glendale residents are at far less risk for flooding than they were before, Kay said. Now the creek is wide open and there’s no place for the debris to get caught, Kay said.
But she can see both the need to work with the beavers and also to prevent future disasters.
“When there’s nature and people, you have to come up with solutions,” Kay said.
In some cases, however, beavers have won friends. A population at Miller Lake is credited with vastly expanding the lake, but also creating water views. For Bob Olin, the edge of his backyard that borders the lake was once dominated by poplar and willow trees. They are all now long gone.
“There were 10,000 of them right out there,” said Olin, motioning to his backyard.
“No, I’m quite happy with the beaver,” he added.
Jamie Hartley, critical areas planner for Island County, said county code defers to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for its guidelines. The state allows residents to shoot or relocate beavers as a last resort to other types of mitigations, including the installation of culverts or beaver deceivers.
Steve Erickson, with the Whidbey Environmental Action Network, said that shooting or trapping the occasional beaver is not going to really impact the population. However, farmers need to learn to deal with changing conditions and coexist with the beaver population.
“The idea of a pretty farm where it’s all static and never going to change is a fantasy,” Erickson said. “People are going to need to change the way they are dealing with nature and work with it.”
For more information on state beaver guidelines, visit www.wdfw.wa.gov/liv