After regular power outages and blocked roads caused by beaver construction, Shorewood has declared war on the bucktoothed creatures and their destructive lifestyle.
The city’s Public Works Department is looking for a trapper this spring to capture beavers humanely. The plan comes on the heels of futile city efforts to dismantle dams and protect roadside trees in the face of the beaver threat.
When winter’s snow melts and Lake Minnetonka’s bays and inlets thaw, beavers will emerge from their lodges but no longer have free rein in the lakeside city.
“It’s just gotten to the point where it’s not just the odd tree,” said Dick Woodruff, a Shorewood City Council Member. “It’s an epidemic.”
Beavers are a common nuisance for nearby homeowners. They often dramatically change the environment around them by felling trees and causing flooding in low-lying areas by blocking streams and rivers.
Woodruff, who has lived on a beaver-populated Shorewood island for the past 19 years, has seen an uptick in beaver-related issues. While beavers long have made Minnesota their home, their activity in Shorewood has intensified over the past three to five years, he said. Dams have gotten bigger, and beavers are targeting trees closer to the road for material to build lodges and dams.
It isn’t clear why the beaver population seems to have grown in Shorewood, and their numbers are unknown. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources hasn’t tracked beaver populations since the 1960s, said Jason Abraham, a DNR furbearer specialist.
“The beavers are aggressively taking down trees,” many of which have fallen on roads and power lines, Shorewood Mayor Scott Zerby said.
On a recent Friday along Enchanted Lane in Shorewood, a copse of trees stood stripped and whittled. Some had been gnawed to a nib, while others with trunks the size of a large man’s torso had bark and layers of wood chomped away.
“They’ve taken out the easy pickings,” said Larry Brown, Shorewood’s Public Works director.
Public Works has been battling the beavers for years, Brown said. After devoting 100 hours annually on beaver removal tasks, only to find destroyed dams replaced the next day with new ones, it became apparent that a new strategy was needed, he said.
“If they can rebuild, they will,” Abraham said.
Under state law, a trapped beaver must be killed rather than moved; live relocation of beavers or any protected species is illegal without a DNR permit. Many Minnesota cities and townships contract for beavers to be harvested, Abraham said. While beavers can be harvested by individuals from late October to May 15, municipalities may trap beavers that are damaging property any time as long as the beavers live within 300 feet of a roadway.
Although Shorewood is set on trapping area beavers, the harvest’s logistics and budget have yet to be worked out, Brown said. Any cap on the beaver take will be established after contracted trappers have established an estimate of how many there are.
About 36,000 beavers were harvested in the state last year, Abraham said. The DNR prefers that cities kill beavers in season, when their pelts are most valuable, but officials realize that’s not always feasible, he said. Shorewood will not sell any harvested pelts, Brown said.
Beaver trapping is as Minnesotan as the state’s French motto, “L’Etoile du Nord” (The Star of the North), which was chosen in part to commemorate the French fur trappers who explored the area in the 17th century. Unlike those trappers, Shorewood wants to use humane methods to capture the beavers and officials are discussing which kind of trap would be as pain-free as possible, Brown said.
The waterlogged beaver lodges may begin to shrink, but they won’t entirely disappear because it’s hard to remove a beaver permanently from any Minnesota location. “They’re amazing animals,” Brown said.
Barry Lytton is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.