Fraser beavers create dam problems
October 11, 2013
FRASER — The Town of Fraser is locked in an epic battle with beavers on the Fraser River.
Dams have caused flooding on portions of the Fraser River Trail, closing the trail for longer than three weeks.
Other municipalities would just exterminate the creatures for damaging a town asset such as the Fraser River Trail, said Town Manager Jeff Durbin. But according to Durbin "we take a more friendly approach in this community."
The town isn't in the business of beaver brutality, he said, and doesn't necessarily want to remove all of the beavers from that particular section of the river.
What the town is planning to do is to "strategically remove" the beavers causing the biggest problems.
This process involves bringing in trappers to capture the beavers alive and relocate the rodents, according to Durbin.
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The process of live trapping and relocating the beavers also requires the approval of Colorado Parks and Wildlife to ensure where the beavers are relocated can sustain the animals.
The town will also be looking at how to address the problem over the long-term, Durbin said.
Not all beavers are bad beavers
While the beavers on the Fraser River have begun to damage town infrastructure through their incessant damming of the river in numerous spots, the town doesn't believe the beavers are all bad.
Along with being an interesting creature to look at with their long flat tails they use for steering as well as slapping the water surface when threatened, beavers build dams that can actually benefit other animals in the river.
The woody debris from beaver dams creates a perfect place to cultivate insect hatches, ultimately making for better fishing, which adds to the work both the town and Colorado Parks and Wildlife have completed to create a better fishery.
The town spent a quarter-million dollars in 2006 to complete river enhancements on the stretch of river, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife has been stocking whirling disease resistant trout into the stream in hopes of restoring the rainbow trout population in the river.
The town developed a beaver management plan in 2005, which in essence said the town would keep an eye on the population and would let them do their thing, as long they didn't damage the town's infrastructure, according to Durbin. But that is exactly what the beavers have begun to do.
"The people of Fraser and town infrastructure trump beavers," Durbin said.
More harm than good
Cathleen Brown, lead operator for the town's public works department, estimates beaver-caused flooding has impacted nearly half of the area next to the river in a two-mile stretch between Fraser and Winter Park.
Past the point where the trail is closed, on the east side of the river near the Lion's Fishing Ponds, portions of the trail are flooded with water, causing erosion on the trail, something the town will have to repair.
The unmistakable teeth of a beaver have chewed the bottoms of the aspen trees next to the trail. The trees that haven't fallen yet sit precariously on a half-eaten base, waiting for a strong wind to give them the small amount of sway needed to send them toppling like the others.
Beavers also can carry giardia, a parasite that will contaminate water and infect people who do not properly filter or treat the contaminated water. Giardia can cause diarrhea, excessive gas, stomach cramps, and nausea. The result of getting infected can be dehydration and nutritional loss.
Another of the town's concerns is increased moose activity where the river is turning into deep ponds, which could cause a jump in human and moose interactions, causing a safety concern for the town.
And what would happen if during spring runoff, washed-away dams and send debris floating downstream to only plug up culverts and bridges, town officials ask. This could damage roads and bridges.
Responsibility to keep the trail open
Keeping the trail in good repair and open to the public not only is a moral responsibility of the town to its citizens, but also is an obligation to the state, which helped fund the construction of the trail through a Great Outdoors Colorado Grant when the trail was built in the mid 1980s.
The grant that helped build the trail included money for upkeep of the trail in the future. If the trail fell into disrepair, it could affect the town's chances at securing more grant money and could potentially hold other repercussions, according to Durbin.
The town has tried removing portions of dams, only to have the dams rebuilt seemingly overnight. The town has also attempted to curb dam construction with "beaver deceivers," or culverts with fences around them that deter beavers from damming, according to Allen Nordin, director of Public Works for the town. The beaver deceivers have proven effective in some areas, but not in others.
Completely removing the dams also presents challenges to the town, as a permit would have to be acquired in order to get the heavy machinery needed in the river to remove dams, no easy feat, according to Durbin. Completely removing the dams could also prove to be cost prohibitive.
"We have tried everything from our toolbox," Nordin said. Though what the town has the ability to do isn't enough to keep the proliferating beaver population under control.
Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334