Beavers are generally hardworking, industrious and helpful critters when they’re in the right location. But when they set up shop in the wrong location — say in the city — it can be disastrous.
Take the Target department store parking lot in Idaho Falls for example.
The fury aquatic rodents have been known to saunter across the store parking lot and chew down ornamental trees in the parking lot medians. Oddly, beavers show up regularly at the nearby waterway next to the store attracted by plenty to eat, ready-made dens and water. Each year, beavers have to be escorted out of town.
Pesky beavers gather the attention of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s beaver squad. Their point man is retired volunteer Roy Leavitt, 79. Leavitt, always on the go, enjoys keeping up with busy beavers.
“Capturing the problem beavers has been my job for the last three years,” Leavitt said.
James Brower, Fish and Game regional communications manager, said the department relocates 15 to 20 beavers each year. In 2019, 16 beavers were relocated. In 2018, 18 were evicted.
Leavitt said there are two beavers living in the waterway next to Target right now that “I’ll need to get to this spring.”
Fish and Game says there are two types of beavers that come to test out the city life. One type is looking to set up a permanent home and the other are referred to as “canal beavers.”
“The canal beavers are often transient,” Brower said. “They don’t set up shop. They come, chew up some people’s decorative trees along the ditch banks and people want us to come and get them out. But a lot of times it’s a munch-and-run situation. They usually don’t stick around too long, especially in those canal systems.”
Brower said the beavers are abundant throughout the Snake River system and its tributaries. When the rodents look for new territory, eastern Idaho’s creeks and canals offer the perfect highway system for exploring. Many of the waterways pass through towns and developments. Beavers love to create deep waters for their protection and lodging. But damming up irrigation ditches and waterways where people live can flood roads, homes and fields.
“Sometimes the county will call us or a cattle company or landowner that have a road or culvert that they use to irrigate or water cows and the beaver have come and stopped it up or they have flooded the road, causing damage of some sort,” Brower said. “We get a lot in the Ririe area, too. The beaver are coming up and gnawing on people’s decorative trees and shrubs.”
Rather than a death sentence, Fish and Game prefers to redirect the industrious critter’s energy elsewhere, inviting them to move into a fixer-upper. The Upper Snake Beaver Cooperative has identified several backcountry locations in eastern Idaho that historically had beaver but don’t any longer.
“We would like to see them introduced because they’re habitat kings,” Brower said. “They just sit there and work and build dams and build ponds and improve streams, make straight channels flow year-round opposed to some that are perennial and stop certain times of the year. We do it in the name of habitat restoration.”
Leavitt said the habitat restoration work done by beavers benefits fish, deer and a wide range of animals. Fish and Game workers drop beavers off in a new neighborhood and give them a head start, even building a stream dam called a “BDA” — beaver dam analog.
“We make the place look a little enticing,” Brower said. “It backs up the water a bit to give them some immediate cover and someplace to swim and hide from predators. I think every predator out there will eat a beaver. ... We never do as good a job as they do. They’ll build a dam and a lodge, and they’ll work on it every single night. It gets bigger and better, and they work for free. It’s fantastic.”
To accomplish the relocation, Leavitt uses a live trap called a Hancock trap. The trap is the size of a large suitcase and snaps shut like a clamshell. The captured beavers are given a health checkup and fitted with a radio transmitter on their tails, then released back into the wild.
“They’re all lots of fun,” Leavitt said. “About 99 percent are really docile. We had one this last summer that was a little devil, more aggressive. We caught that one up at the Boy Scout camp in Swan Valley. We released him up at the Idaho-Montana border on the Modoc (Creek near Monida, Mont.).”
Leavitt said once the beavers are relocated, they stay put.
“There’s no repeat offenders,” he said. “When we release them, we put them where they’ll do good and can’t get into trouble. They’re happy beavers.”
To assure relocation success, multiple beavers are dropped off at the same location.
“You get some old guy out there, and he gets kind of lonesome for a gal,” Leavitt said. “He gets happy when we release a gal in there.”