Beavers in the News: Alabama Residents Voice Concerns about Beaver Dam

I thought an interesting addition to my blog would be finding and discussing recent news articles about beavers and their dams.

THIS JUST IN. Alabama residents notice slightly more water collecting in an already established wetland. Upon further investigation, residents realize a beaver has moved in and dammed up a ditch. Citizens fear the beaver will bring with it biblical swarms of mosquitos all carrying the Zika virus and uncountable deadly copperhead snakes. Citizens believe removing the dam and beaver will protect them. City officials refused to remove the dam as it is on private property. Citizens fear for the vulnerable children and pregnant women of Athens. Beaver is the harbinger of the apocalypse. 

Okay, the above synopsis may be a bit of an exaggeration. The recent article “Residents voice concerns over beaver dam” published in the News Courier of Athens, Alabama struck me as a bunch of people getting worked up and scared over nothing. Let me preface this by saying I don’t defend beavers in every scenario – as this Beavers in the News series continues you’ll hear me argue all sides. Sometimes beavers need to be left alone, sometimes they need to be managed, sometimes they need to be relocated, and sometimes they may need to be killed. But for the residents of Athens, AL, I really think they just need to leave the poor beaver alone.

A FAIR ARTICLE SUMMARY: 

  • a beaver moved into a wetland area in the town/city of Athens, AL
  • the beaver built a dam and created a pond in an existing ditch
  • the area the beaver is in has already been protected against flooding and property damage since the area is already a wetland
  • residents are worried that the pond is going to cause a large increase in mosquito breeding
  • residents are scared of the mosquito carried Zika virus that is responsible for severe birth defects in Central and South America
  • one resident believes there are an excess number of copperhead snakes near the beaver pond
  • the city can’t remove the dam because it is on private property unless they get the property owner’s permission
  • the property owner will not give permission
  • citizens are worried and unhappy about the situation
sad man
This picture from the article shows a man staring (dramatically) at the ponded water. You can just barely see the edge of the beaver dam in the lower right corner of the image. I don’t fault the residents for being scared or upset, but I do believe that feeling is coming from a place of misinformation.

MY TAKE ON THE ISSUE:
All joking aside, I think that the fear and worry people have about coexisting with beavers is because they are misinformed about the issue. The only way to combat misinformation is to spread the knowledge! So that’s what I’m going to do. The way I read the article, there are three concerns the citizens have about the beaver moving in.

  1. The beaver could cause property damage from flooding
  2. The beaver pond contains dangerous animals like copperhead snakes
  3. The beaver pond will have a significant effect on mosquito breeding and increase likelihood of the Zika virus spreading

I understand all these concerns. I think in some cases, they could be valid concerns. Property damage is a real problem, especially when beavers move into urban communities. No one wants to be bitten by copperhead snakes. The Zika virus is nothing to joke about. It’s responsible for tragic severe birth defects in Central and South America. That being said, I still don’t think the citizens of Athens, AL need to be worried about this beaver.

1) Flooding: Athens, AL is built in a low point in the landscape on a naturally occurring wetland. The beaver moving in did not create a wetland, it simply inhabited an already existing one.

flood.jpg
Not gonna happen.

Since the wetland has been established for quite some time, the city of Athens had already taken measures to protect the nearby roads and properties from flood damage. According to James Rich, the superintendent of Athens Public Works, “[Property owners] are concerned about flooding, but water is moving through the [beaver] den. It’s a very low area, but I don’t think there’s any concern about property damage. Even without the beaver dams, it’s just a wetlands area.” So flooding and property damage is not something people need to worry about.

2) Snakes: According to the article, a local property owner “claims copperhead snakes have also been seen in the vicinity of the ditch [with the beaver dam].” Just to put everyone’s mind at ease – according to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources “Copperheads are not known as being an aggressive snake. They seldom strike unless stepped on or handled. Of all known venomous snakes in the United States, copperheads have the least toxic venom. Bites are painful but rarely fatal.”

copperhead
Just don’t stomp on it and it won’t bite you.

Copperheads are a species native to Alabama, and it is a fact that they like living on the edges of wetlands and floodplains. There are also a lot of species of marsh and water snake that are harmless to people and love living in and around beaver ponds. First, it is possible that this property owner mistook a harmless water snake for a copperhead and there is nothing to be afraid of. If this is not the case and there actually are copperheads near the beaver pond, I’m going to go ahead and guess that they were already in the area and whether or not there is a beaver pond won’t significantly affect their population since copperheads don’t breed or live primarily in ponds. Long story short, if you’re out tromping around the wetlands, your chances of getting bitten by a copperhead are not going to be any higher just because a beaver pond is there. And if you do get bit, you won’t die.

3) Zika Mosquitos: This one is a little tricky. Yes, beaver ponds can sometimes be a breeding ground for mosquitos due to the slow water velocity, although they aren’t as good of breeding grounds as swimming pools, water buckets, etc. Yes, mosquitos can carry the Zika virus. Yes, the Zika virus is so horrible that I would personally want to do anything I can to reduce my risk of exposure. But I don’t think the citizens of Athens need to worry about this beaver pond increasing their risk. Again, the fact that this place was already a wetland meant that mosquitos were already breeding. The beaver pond, if anything, would provide a better habitat for fish that feed on mosquito larvae. Filling ditches with water to attract mosquito-eating fish is actually an established mosquito control technique called Open Water Marsh Management. So maybe that beaver pond is helping the mosquito eradication efforts after all. With regards to concerns about the Zika virus: it has been confirmed in about 400 USA cases, but nearly all of them were contracted abroad. This is because currently the Zika virus is limited to mosquitos in Central and South America. Even if that beaver pond did make a lot more mosquitos (which is likely doesn’t), those mosquitos would not be carrying Zika. Of course, the Zika virus is still very scary and the CDC has warned that it may spread to the southern United States eventually. Scary, right? But the citizens of Athens shouldn’t worry too much. Their city already participates in mosquito fogging – i.e. spraying airborne poisons that kills the mosquitos and/or their eggs.

zika-map
The Zika virus is definitely something to avoid, but as of now it is not actively being transmitted in the USA – i.e. the mosquitos in Alabama don’t carry it.

So rest assured Athens, AL! This beaver dam is not going to hurt you, your house, your children, your pregnant relatives, or anyone else. Instead of worrying, take some time to appreciate the benefits of beaver ponds for biodiversity and the role of beavers as a keystone species.

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