Beaver LBM-M1-23, better known as Norman, temporarily moved into a drained pool at Columbia Springs in east Vancouver to get sorted out after being booted from his Camas dwelling earlier this month.
The nonprofit environmental education center operates a seasonal “AirbnBeaver” for those like Norman, who are labeled a nuisance for damaging or flooding property.
Columbia Springs partners with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to operate a hatchery to raise trout and steelhead, although not all of its pools are always full. Here, beavers reside for up to two weeks in an emptied fish-hatching pool until the environmental nonprofit Cascade Forest Conservancy can move them to the Lewis River watershed inside the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Relocating these beavers is a way to avoid euthanizing them, said Amanda Keasberry, the conservancy’s science and stewardship manager.
Norman, the 50-pound and coarsely haired guest, snoozed within the plastic walls of his igloo-shaped shelter in mid-November. A tree stump, branches and water helped make him feel at home. He wasn’t a rowdy guest but pretty lethargic. He preferred silence, said Kylie DaCunha, Columbia Springs community engagement specialist. The goal was to keep his stay stress-free so he could snore without interruption.
Beavers are a keystone species whose habitat-altering skills help shape wetlands, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The furbearers’ engineering, however, often redirects water toward nearby homes, upsetting the humans who live there.
“They’re doing what they’ve always done, but we’re the ones who are moving in,” Keasberry said.
Cascade Forest Conservancy is one of two Clark County agencies approved for trapping and relocation, with the Cowlitz Indian Tribe being the other.
Keasberry said most of the nuisance beaver calls she receives are from homeowners, although complaints sometimes come from government departments, too.
When a landowner contacts Keasberry, she spends time fleshing out the details: How long has the beaver been on the property? What damage are they causing, if any? Is relocation necessary, or is the beaver simply being a beaver in its habitat?
Say a beaver chewed down a tree and a property owner is concerned about those still standing. Keasberry may make a recommendation to install field fencing as a protective measure. However, if the situation is more complex — a beaver dam is causing flooding or plugging culverts — she’ll do a site visit to examine the damage.
Sometimes, human-beaver intermingling is unavoidable.
“Beavers and humans kind of want the same thing when it comes to landscapes,” Keasberry said. “They have their homes in the back of your home.”
An ultimate beaver habitat contains water year-round — a small creek or river that flows through a wide floodplain — and is rife with shrubs, grasses and aquatic plants for the rodents to munch. The fine sediment near water makes it easy for beavers to dig tunnels from their lodges and dams to transport food. Deep pools and woodsy cover provide protection from predators.
If relocation is best for the beaver and property owner, Keasberry will start trapping — a process that lasts for that two-week period, so she can capture as many of the beavers’ family members as possible. Beavers are released from their AirbnBeaver space once their family is together or close to the end of their stay at Columbia Springs, per state regulations.
Fortunately for Norman, he was reunited with his mate, LBM-F1-23, before he was moved to a new home.
Earlier this fall, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife proposed a training program and tweaks to its permitting process to expand beaver relocation efforts. At its root, the goal is to keep beavers in the landscape rather than killing them, whether they live in a backyard or on public land.
Although the state is still revising its rules surrounding beaver relocation, landowners can take steps to minimize the critters’ damage on their property and learn how to coexist with nature.
Property owners can mitigate beaver damage by wrapping trees with wired fencing or coating trunks with a sand and latex paint mixture, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. General hardware stores carry these materials, while specialized companies sell nonlethal deterrents.
Cascade Forest Conservancy doesn’t want to remove a beaver if it’s only causing minor issues. Relocation is the last resort in human-beaver conflicts, Keasberry said. Once one beaver’s gone, another often moves in to take over the territory. Instead, educating people on how to live with them is more important.
“Relocation is an amazing option as opposed to lethal removal, but it doesn’t fix everything,” she said.
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.