Wildlife agents hunt beavers to stop floods in Federal Way
By ANDY HOBBS
Federal Way Mirror Editor
October 29, 2012 · Updated 3:57 PM
State wildlife agents are hunting beavers in Federal Way over concerns of flooding on South 373rd Street.
The rising water levels in the Hylebos Creek, as caused by beaver dams, pose a threat to the road's infrastructure and the safety of drivers.
Three beavers were trapped and euthanized this week at the Federal Way site. The department is looking for one more beaver, said Matt Cleland, district supervisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Wildlife Services.
Wildlife agents catch the beavers with body-grip traps, also known as Conibear traps. A beaver will die within minutes after the baited trap springs shut.
The Washington State Department of Transportation, which owns the site, was contacted by the City of Federal Way and the Puyallup tribe to address the flooding.
In 2007, the Spring Valley Restoration Project was intended to control flooding on South 373rd Street and expand the spawning grounds for salmon. WSDOT built a bridge and rerouted the creek through a culvert. Friends of the Hylebos, a local conservation group, helped plant trees and vegetation at the site.
However, beavers soon moved in and built large dams. The dams have raised the water level to just inches below the bridge while flooding the surrounding properties.
"We weren't going to remove them until the water got that close to the bridge," said Carl Ward, a biologist for WSDOT. "One of the dams is 6 feet tall and has flooded 10 acres. … They built a second dam, which made it a lot worse."
Ward acknowledged that more beavers will eventually build dams in that area.
"Chances are, they are going to come back," he said of the beavers. "They're expanding rapidly through the system and in other areas in the watershed."
(Pictured: The bridge over the Hylebos Creek on South 373rd Street in Federal Way.)
In recent decades, the beaver population has grown stronger in Washington because people aren't trapping or hunting the animals anymore. Reasons include a statewide ban on body-grip traps, Cleland said, along with the lack of a market for beaver fur. That's a reversal from the late 1800s, when unregulated trapping led to the beaver population's decline.
"Other than a mountain lion or a bear, beavers have no natural predators," Cleland said. "We were about the only line of population control."
Federal Way resident Randi Darmer has lived on South 373rd Street by the creek for 50 years. This is the first time beavers have caused flooding in the area, she said.
The flooded road has led to car accidents in the past because of ice. She understands the need to fix the problem, even if it means killing the beavers.
"It's a bummer for the beavers," Darmer said. "It's a catch-22. We can't have our road flooding."
Beavers are the largest rodents in North America, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Adults weigh an average of 40 pounds and measure more than 3 feet long, including the tail. Large front incisors grow throughout a beaver's life, and the teeth are used to cut trees and peel bark.
By building dams, beavers flood their territory to provide underwater entrances to their dens and protect themselves from predators. Beavers have been known to build dams 10 feet high and more than 165 feet wide.
A University of Washington study titled "The Importance of Beaver Ponds to Coho Salmon Production in the Stillaguamish River Basin, Washington, USA" explores the positive relationship between beaver dams and the population of coho salmon.
"There is great potential for increasing coho salmon populations through an increase in the abundance of slow-water habitats, such as those created by beaver dams," the study concluded.
Contact Federal Way Mirror Editor Andy Hobbs at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-253-925-5565 (ext 5050).