Like most people given permission to trespass on private
property for the purpose of enjoying a few hours of outdoor
recreation, I feel obligated to report to the landowner anything
I perceive to be a problem, or potential problem. Sometimes
it's not a problem I report but something I notice that the
landowner might like knowing about for personal entertainment
The latter was the case October 30th. I was in my canoe,
working the southwest shore of a Watershed District pond.
Catching some fish, too. Every forty or fifty casts I would
pull my anchors off the bottom, ease forward twenty yards,
re-anchor and go at it anew. Facing the shoreline, I was
intent on putting my casts close to the weed edge then watching
my leader and floating line carefully for that telltale twitch indicating
Raising my view a few degrees upward from the weed edge, it
took a few seconds before it sank in that I was looking at
something I couldn't remember seeing in twenty-some visits
here: a beaver-felled, bark-stripped tree.
To most people the state of Kansas sounds like the last
place in America where beavers would choose to live.
Prairie state, pool table-flat terrain, wheat and corn fields
everywhere, etc., etc.
Spare me, please: Kansas is practically knee-deep in beavers.
During the canoe trips that I do on the Delaware, Wakarusa,
Marias des Cygnes, Arkansas and Kansas rivers I'm floating
at close range past so many chewed trees, so many beaver den
entrance holes dug into streambanks that I'm almost numb to the
surprise factor I felt thirty years ago when first noticing this
unmistakable evidence. Doubtless beavers have been living
here in good numbers long before I became aware. During a
pheasant hunt in the late 1970s I was stunned to find a string
of beaver dams thrown across a tiny unnamed tributary of Spring
Creek northwest of Beattie an upland creek so far removed from
a river of any real size that from the farm where I was bird hunting
you'd have to hike three days and nights to find any water wide
enough to turn a canoe around in.
So, taking only casual notice of this chewed-down tree, I
stopped casting and pulled my camera out of my fanny pack.
With the afternoon sun backlighting the scene this spot was
decently photogenic. I thought the landowner might enjoy
finding a "nature in your backyard" attached photo in tomorrow's
Before leaving for home, I mention in passing that I'd found
beaver sign at the pond. No big deal, it's only one
beaver-chewed tree; I've seen thousands of 'em. To my surprise,
the landowner's eyes narrowed into that Clint Eastwood squint
and I heard, "Say WHAT? There's never been beavers in that
And thus, for the landowner, began what has now become a
two-month long combination panic attack/Wild Kingdom episode
complete with buttered popcorn devoured in anticipation of nature's
next little drama.
I did not grasp the logic behind the landowner's concern.
Indeed, the concern seemed without merit, even alarmist. This
is a large Watershed District pond, four acres in surface area.
The dam is massive both in the width of its footing and its height
and length. Moreover, the face of the dam is gently sloped, which
I knew gave beavers no convenient vertical "wall" into which they
could or would even want to excavate bank dens. The way I
saw things, having beavers live in the pond couldn't threaten the dam
and this was the only really important consideration.
Well, not the only consideration. As the landowner began
stressing out, Yours Truly was becoming equally excited except
I was imagining much happier scenarios. Filling my head now were
the benefits soon to be delivered to me if this pond began supporting
a permanent beaver population. Medium and large-size trees growing
along the shore would get dropped into the water on a regular basis,
depositing new tree trunks and main beam limbs that would reach out
into the pond providing excellent cover and critical habitat for plankton,
aquatic insects, minnows and gamefish. Tree limbs I could largely avoid
snagging by simply anchoring my canoe offshore
who come here (bank casters all) would be helpless to avoid repeatedly
snagging and breaking off when probing those same limb tangles.
But the landowner was adamant; something had to be done to
remove the beaver (or beavers). This landowner is concerned
about maintaining the quality of the pond, which anyone who
owns a pond ought to be anyway. Plus, this is a Watershed
District pond intended for floodwater retention and the landowner
respects and follows the government-imposed maintenance rules
ultimately intended to protect the good neighbors who live and
own property "down-shed".
Judging the dam to not be in jeopardy, in the days that followed I
spent many hours trading emails with the landowner, during which
time I indirectly argued my canoe fisherman's desire that the beavers
be left to their own devices. They've found your pond now, I wrote.
If you trap them out or shoot them out you're only postponing the
inevitable; more recruits from the local population will soon show up
to replace the fallen. So leave them alone, let their numbers self-regulate.
The shoreline lumberjack work they'll do will not be anything you can't
live with. Let the beavers do their thing. If you're still worried, then help
some local guy earn a few extra dollars: call Kansas Wildlife and Parks
and ask for a trapper referral.
After resting my case, I was bored one afternoon and did a "beaver
damage to pond dams" Google search on my computer. Up popped
extensive information on the subject published by are you sitting
down? Kansas State University! Hey, when a nearly exclusive
agriculture/horticulture/livestock-based school like K-State generates
this much information on beaver damage you KNOW the furry flat-tailed
critters are not only here, they're dropping that crabapple tree in your
back yard right now.
So I began reading through this multi-category K-State link. Yes, yes;
I agree completely. Uh huh, those rascals sure enough will do that.
that's interesting. Oh, really? Cool! And then my eyes
scanned a sentence that made me back up and read it twice more,
and if I was someone suffering a heart condition I'd have tucked two
nitroglycerin capsules under my tongue then reached for the oxygen
I will paraphrase: "Beavers instinctively explore the sound of
running water. Once the source is found they try to prevent
that water from escaping. This behavior leads them to attempt
plugging the outlet tubes of farm ponds with an impenetrable
mass of woven sticks and mud."
Just last summer a succession of narrow-width heavy rain storms
trained through northeast Kansas and in one 24-hour period the
watershed area that this pond controls got hit by eighteen inches
of rainfall. Repeat: eighteen inches. The landowner told me later
that for the first time since the pond was built water flowed
uncontrolled around the south end of the dam, over the emergency
spillway. And that happened with the dam's drain tube unobstructed,
allowing water discharge at maximum design volume.
If beavers were to quietly plug that drain tube and the
landowner didn't know they'd done it, and another
eighteen inches of rain hits this drainage section and
surges into the pond the water level could rise so swiftly
that overtopping of the dam could occur, causing rapid
and severe erosion leading to the dam's catastrophic failure.
That failure could send a wall of water down-valley so deep
and fast it drowns the landowner and nearby residents, any
passing roadway motorists plus livestock penned downstream
from the dam.
Aside from the Great Flood of 1993 and the 1952 Flood
(that one forced my family to evacuate our farm north of Reading)
the third worst flood I've personally witnessed in my lifetime
happened here in November of 1973. Floods will hit Kansas
at some pretty odd times of the year, times you wouldn't normally
As fast as my fingers could move over the keyboard I
emailed the landowner, sending the link address to this
K-State beaver damage information along with a personal
suggestion (again paraphrased): "Recommend you authorize
and commence beaver trapping and/or shooting immediately.
Need shooter, call me. Suggest mounting telescopic sight on
your rifle for improved distance accuracy; fire only from
elevated positions to prevent ricochet off water."
Or words to that effect: I was pretty excited at the time.
Not a panic attack exactly, but I was definitely within
binocular range and that was as close as I wanted to
get while 2008's fall weather was still behaving
Thanks to K-State's information, my opinion had shifted
onto the same sheet of music as the landowner's initial
intuitive opinion. With no time for trying alternatives, in
my mind it had now come down to a clear choice between:
A) Helping protect this big pond dam that has given me
so much fishing enjoyment, or; B) Allowing beavers a
chance to jam a cork in this pond's drain tube, thereby
flirting with havoc.
Sorry, Bucky. You lose.
Just days before trapping operations began the landowner
inspected the pond and observed a startling increase in
shoreline chew-downs. This resulted in lots of small limbs
marooned in the drain tube's immediate vicinity, transported
there by surface movement similar to the scupper action at
swimming pools? Ready-made drain tube plug material had
been delivered to the "work site" with no extra effort needed
by the beavers. There was no option now but to trap.
The experienced trapper who was given permission to work
the pond quickly found one well-concealed beaver den hole
dug into the bank at a spot back in one of the pond arms. (I'd
earlier carefully inspected the pond's entire perimeter myself by
canoe and had missed this den opening.) He soon bagged one
beaver, employing a quick-kill Conibear body gripper trap. He
has since found spoor indicating a second beaver resides in the
pond, and is attempting to trap it out.
Up to the reader, but next visit you might consider checking
for beaver sign in the ponds you have permission to fish? Bucky
stays on the move, exploring the environment. Bucky works
while we sleep. You might check those ponds every trip, actually.
In the animal's defense and here I express my gratitude to Kansas
State University for including extensive information on control
alternatives trapping or shooting is not always necessary. The
link describes a number of clever devices that physically modify
existing pond dam drain tubes to prevent beaver plugging. If
cost-effective to the landowner, installing one of these devices
lets beavers live in the pond without threatening its structural integrity.
Great news for landowners who wish to allow or provide living space
for these creatures then enjoy watching their amazing, fascinating activities.
Neither the owner of this Watershed District pond nor I bear
a personal grudge against beavers. Speaking for myself member
of a recreation group that needs and exploits the dams beavers
build in trout country I'd be the last person to make a sweeping
moral judgment condemning the beaver for its existence and
instinctive behavior. If that ever becomes my attitude would
someone please remind me to scowl at myself in a mirror first,
in view the ghastly destruction our "more highly evolved" human
species keeps inflicting on this planet? Destruction that by simply
being alive I directly and indirectly contribute to on a daily basis.
It will, in fact, come as no shock to me if during my next visit
the landowner tells me that some type of drain tube modification
is scheduled as part of the farm's operational outline for next year.
This landowner loves seeing wildlife of all kinds living on and
visiting the property so long as a mutually beneficial give and
take is maintained. ~ Joe
From Douglas County, Kansas, Joe is a former municipal and
federal police officer, now retired. In addition to fishing, he hunts
upland birds and waterfowl, and for the last 15 years
has pursued the sport of solo canoeing. On the nearby
Kansas River he has now logged nearly 5,000 river miles
while doing some 400 wilderness style canoe camping
trips. A musician/singer/songwriter as well, Joe recently
retired from the U.S. General Services Adminstration.
Joe at one time was a freelance photojournalist who wrote the
Sunday Outdoors column for his city newspaper. Outdoor
sports, writing and music have never earned him any money,
but remain priceless activities essential to surviving the
former 'day job.'