The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 1, 2004


A Carlisle citizen chronicles his beaver woes

We in Carlisle are blessed by wilderness surroundings. Hardly a week goes by without an encounter with a deer, fox, owl, beaver, or other wild creature. It is these encounters that make living in Carlisle a truly rural and wonderful experience. Unfortunately though, not all these encounters are beneficial and not all wild creatures can happily co-exist with their human neighbors. In extreme cases where wild creatures pose a threat to human health and safety, it is the wild creatures that ultimately must yield.

For several years now, those of us living along Brook Street, Maple Street and Page Brook Road have been dealing with the worsening conditions of beaver-caused flooding. At first our backyards became too wet to mow and eventually unusable. Then the native pine trees started to wilt and die and now the open water has reached several wells and septic system leaching fields, including my own.

The protection of beavers began in 1996 and as a result their local population has quadrupled. Their natural predators have left the area and the most effective traps used to control their population have been outlawed. Now, all the waterways in the state that can physically support beavers have them. In response to the exploding number of conflicts, the state Legislature amended its protection laws in 2000 and published resolution guidelines for local Boards of Health and Conservation Commissions.

I explained my situation to the MSPCA as well as the Mass. Dept of Public Health (MDPH) and the Mass. Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MDFW), all of whom were extraordinarily helpful. I discovered that the beaver dams in the area raised the water level in the neighborhood to somewhere between a 100-year and 500-year flood. At the advice of the MDFW, I also interviewed a company that specializes in solving beaver conflicts. (Yes, they do exist!)

After collecting input from these sources and after a thorough review of the states guidelines, I contacted the Carlisle BOH and ConsCom. My first concern was to get the water away from my septic field and to develop an acceptable plan to keep it away. Linda Fantasia and Sylvia Willard both came out to my property that day and took pictures of the flooding. Having been to my yard before, Sylvia Willard was surprised to see the dramatic increase in the water level.

I applied to the BOH for an Emergency Permit to mitigate the beaver-caused flooding and I applied to the ConsCom for an Emergency Certification to take down the offending beaver dams. After reviewing the photos of the site and aerial photos taken before the beaver's arrival to the area, the BOH determined that a threat to public health and safety did indeed exist at my property and that the threat was posed by beaver activity in Pages Brook and Greenough Pond. I was therefore granted an Emergency Permit.

The permit allows for one or more of the following actions: installation of a water flow control device (WFCD); dam breaching; and/or trapping. Both dam breaching and the installation of WFCD requires review and permission from the ConsCom.

I reviewed these options with the MSPCA, MDPH, MDFW and the beaver management consultants from Beaver Solutions, Inc. and determined that the area is not suitable for the installation of a Water Flow Control Device due to its flat topography, the number of alternate spots the beaver can move to downstream, and the low level of tolerance the area has for temporary flooding. The MDFW estimates that water flow control devices are appropriate and effective in about 5% of cases and they were confident that this was not one of them.

This left trapping and dam breaching as the only other alternatives. Trapping, according to the MSPCA, is only effective for one, perhaps two years before young beavers move in and stake a claim to the area. The MSPCA's position on trapping is obvious — they would like to avoid it at all costs. However, they do not oppose trapping beavers in circumstances where alternatives will not work and in cases where there is a threat to public health and safety. The MSPCA representative I spoke to agreed that trapping is most likely the most effective option for us here. It is likely we will need to continue to trap each season.

Fortunately, the BOH understood the complexities of the problem and the difficulties of the solution, especially given the environmental-sensitivity of our community. The Conservation Commission, with conditions, granted me an Emergency Certificate to breach the dams at the Maple Street culvert and the Greenough dam.

We as a community are going to face this issue repeatedly. I applaud the BOH and ConsCom for taking a bold position that is in the best interest of public health and safety.

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito