Program aims to gnaw into rural beaver population

By Sandi P. Beason

Daily Journal

TUPELO – When the beaver population is out of control, rural areas see a lot of damage.

“Beaver dams flood farmland, and they cause our roads to flood,” said Lee County's District 1 Supervisor Phil Morgan. “They build dams in box culverts under roads. I have one creek, Tulip Creek, they dam up.”

Landowners do have recourse; a beaver bounty program run through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service helps offset the per-tail cost to trap the animals.

And it's a popular program.

“We had more requests than money we had set aside for it,” said Dan Bagley, district conservationist. “We had to supplement that program last year with our regular budget.”

It paid out more than $3,000 he said.

Basically, landowners must apply for the funds, and show a beaver tail as proof of the animal being caught. If approved, he'll get $15 per tail – roughly half of what most trappers charge.

There is a 20 tail per year, per landowner limit.

“That's because our funds are limited,” Bagley said. “If we had unlimited funds, we could do 50 a year or more per landowner.”

Curbing the problem

When the program began in 2002, he said, beavers were rampant.

“We had them in a couple of areas,” said District 2 Supervisor Bobby Smith. “We had them in the White Oak Estates area. Through the program, we got most of them trapped and got the creeks cleaned out.”

They had also dammed up some of the major creeks, flooding some farmland.

“Water was standing in the ditches, which contributes to the mosquito problem,” he said.

Today, it is under control.

“My area is more populated, so obviously, we don't have as much of a problem as they do in the rural areas where there is not as much traffic.”

Bagley said some state funding was available, but that dried up in 2004. In Lee County, supervisors continued funding, filling the funding gap with local money.

“This is one of those programs that is not mandated,” Bagley said. “When the county talks about them having to pick up slack due to state and federal cutbacks, that's what happened here. They considered that a high priority in Lee County, in the rural areas.”

Out of season

The program will pick up in November, when it is cooler.

“Beavers are on vacation right now,” Bagley said. “They are not active in the hottest part of the year. In November, they start building dams and dens, and trapping picks up in November.”

They gravitate towards streams with moving water, but not very heavy flow. Where water moves more slowly, he said, beavers can dam it more efficiently.

“They build dams in anything, anywhere the water is moving,” he said. “Sometimes a culvert allows them a good place to start. … A beaver goes where it hears water running and sees it running. When it gets to a constricted flow, like a round pipe or box culvert, they tend to start work right there.”

They are usually nocturnal, and do not stay where there is a lot of human activity. They are not dangerous.

Lee County is not the only one with a beaver bounty program. Bagley said landowners in other areas should check with their soil and water conservation offices to see if they have something similar.

Contact Daily Journal reporter Sandi P. Beason at 678-1598 or sandi.beason@djournal.com