Keystone Species Beavers

How New Mexico Wildlife Agencies
Respond to Beaver Complaints


 

beaver

FWS employee setting beaver trap in National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Hollingsworth, John and Karen, USFWS.

 

beaver

Beavers are the largest rodent in North America and play an important role in nature by creating and expanding wetlands, while enhancing habitat for many types of animals. Because of this they are considered to be a “keystone” species. When beavers are removed from an area, significant changes occur such as a decrease in habitat quality. Many endangered species, like the southwestern willow flycatcher, rely greatly on the presence of beaver habitat.

At one time, beavers could be found in most permanent rivers and streams in New Mexico.1 However, when Europeans colonized North America, beavers were trapped extensively for their fur and many wetlands were drained for farmland.2 By the 1850’s, beavers had been eliminated from much of their former range. Today, most of New Mexico’s beavers can be found in the northern, mountainous areas of the state. There are no current population estimates for beavers in New Mexico; the most recent, from 1967, gives an estimate of 5,500-6,0003.

Beavers are second only to humans in their ability to alter the landscape. Because of this, and because humans often live near beaver habitat, conflicts can arise. For example, beavers build dams that may cause flooding of roads, yards, or crops. Complaints regarding “problem” animals are often lodged with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) or Wildlife Services (WS). Unfortunately, these agencies respond to virtually all complaints by killing the offending animals and non-lethal methods are rarely used; in fiscal year 2001, NMDGF and WS killed a total of 204 beavers.

Live trapping and relocating beavers is not, in most cases, a suitable solution because the family unit may be split up, animals may be released in an area where they cannot survive, or other beavers may simply move into the vacated areas. However, other alternatives exist. The most humane and effective way to solve beaver problems involves tricking them. Beavers cause flooding because they are driven to build dams anywhere they hear running water. However, flow devices made from PVC pipe or wire mesh can be installed in dammed areas to allow water to pass through, while beavers build to their heart’s content.

Currently New Mexico’s wildlife agencies are not routinely installing water flow devices as a means of dealing with beaver complaints. APNM plans to promote the use of non-lethal alternatives to wildlife agencies for addressing beaver problems. The installation of flow devices has the potential to be a time- and cost-effective solution that could yield positive results for both beavers and humans.

For more information on flow devices and other humane ways to live with beavers, contact APNM's Wildlife Program Manager, Phil Carter, at (505) 967-5297, or email.

 


1 See NMDGF’s Biota Information System at http://fwie.fw.vt.edu/states/nmex_main/species/050115.htm.

2 Beavers: Wetlands & Wildlife. 2000. “How to control beaver flooding,” at www.BeaversWW.org. 3 See supra note 1.