Why we don’t relocate beavers

Why we don't relocate beavers

Beaver Works often gets calls from folks who want 'problem beavers' removed from a settled site (where beavers have moved in).  We also get calls from folks who see the benefits of beaver activity and so want beavers delivered to their property.

Matching folks who don't want beavers with those who do - it sounds like a "win win win".

This beaver program started with an idea to provide beaver relocation services. We sought out the training and tools. We got current on state policies around moving beavers. We talked to different folks in land and wildlife management: private landholders and restoration agencies stewarding the land, other beaver organizations and our local ODFW biologists.

Here's what we learned and why we don't relocate beavers:

  • There's trauma and loss caused to beavers through relocation activities: capture, handling and release
  • Removing a 'problem beaver' (or beaver family) away from a location more often doesn't work long term
  • Stream restoration goals quite often are not achieved by importing in a family of beavers


And so, while relocating beavers is often presented as a happy occasion and "go to solution" – ‘rescue a beaver that would otherwise be killed’ – we’ve come to view relocation with concerns. It's why we don't relocate beavers as a service.

Here's a closer look:

1. Relocation doesn't work for the Beaver/s
Here's why relocation doesn't work for the beavers, as individuals, as families and at a population scale:

  • Beavers are easily stressed by human handling. Wild beaver individuals are known to be quite shy, they easily stress, they will hide in captivity as much as they're allowed. You can imagine handling by a predator species - man - causes trauma for any wild non-human animal, and especially for beavers. Veterinary handling of an injured beaver patient is minimized to the extreme - more so than any other wildlife patient - when in care by the veterinary specialists at our organization's Think Wild wildlife hospital. (Learn more about Capture Myopathy)
  • Complex family dynamics. Much like human families, beaver families are very bonded with rich, complex relationships. Yearlings care for their kit siblings, they mentor each other on dam repair, den building and more and stay with their family unit for a full two years before dispersing. Live trapping a beaver family intact for relocation can be challenging, and families can be permanently separated in attempts to live trap and relocate a family to another site.
  • Capture loss and family separation through 'live-trapping' methods.
    Early in our program training we observed the professional live-trapping of a family of 4 'problem' beavers (two adults, two young kits).  One of the adults and one kit were caught in the live traps as intended.  Sadly, the 2nd kit was killed by the live trap on closure, leaving the 2nd of the adult pair to remove from the pond.  Over the next two nights however, this remaining adult was never captured to be reunited with her mate and surviving kit. In one evening of trapping to relocate, this mother's family was lost. She had moved on. This outcome could have been prevented with the installation of a flow device to address the homeowner's flooding concern, but this solution had never been considered. Instead, a reflex response to 'problem beaver calls' had been built over the years around relocation, instead of exploring mitigation solutions and living with the beavers. Unfortunately, outcomes like these for beavers are not uncommon when "relocate to rescue" is the go to response.
  • Disease spread. Beaver relocation is complicated also by the risk of disease transmission between relocated beavers and resident beavers within a release watershed. Disease spread concerns from one beaver population to another include cryptosporidium, tularemia, plague, and lysteriosis.  These diseases can be deadly, and deaths by disease spread have been documented after relocations.

BEAVER RELOCATION MATH
In first-hand accounts and a review of published research reports from around the West, here's the Math around beaver relocation:

  • Mortality on capture:   0% - 10%
    The most common live-traps in use (the Hancock trap, or similar) are antiquated in design, challenging to set and prone to cause drowning, trauma and/or deadly injury.
  • Mortality in handling and husbandry:   0% - 10%
    Beavers are one of the shyest mammals there are, and stress very easily even with the most experienced handlers.
  • Removal success rate at "problem beaver" sites:  about 25%
    The likelihood is low that a site will stay "beaver free" after removal of an established individual or family after 2-3 years. More beavers will fill that space.
  • Release success rate (beavers successfully stick around):   25% - 35%
    Beavers will often leave the target release site in search of better food sources and optimal conditions to settle. In traveling, they're the most vulnerable to predation and starvation.

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Sources:
- 10 published reports (Reference this Compilation of 10 documented Beaver Studies and Reports through Sept 2022)
- The Beaver Institute
- First hand accounts by the Beaver Works crew

2. Relocation often doesn't solve a “problem beaver” situation
If the conditions are ideal enough at a location for a beaver to settle, start tree-felling, den-building, damming, and even family building beavers will continue to do so – time after time. So "live-trapping" an existing beaver (or family) for relocation is often only a short term answer for the land steward with a "beaver problem". Here's why:

  • Nature abhors a vacuum.  At vacated locations (where beaver have been removed), other beavers will move in an average of 75% of the time within 2 years of beaver removal, reports the Beaver Institute.
  • Better solutions often exist through infrastructure adaption and "living with beavers".  Mitigation solutions like flow devices, culvert protectors or tree fencing can prevent water from flooding things out and trees from felling. The materials are easy to source and install, and allow the beavers to stay in place - providing ecosystem benefits.

We offer Living with beavers solutions through infrastructure adaptions as the more cost-effective and humane solution for sites with beaver problems.

3. Relocated beavers are often absent from the release site shortly after release
When post-release monitoring happens, published reports suggest on average that beavers will stick around (remain at the target release site) only 25% to 35% of the time.

There are a number of different reasons why beavers disappearance from being released, that may include:

  • suboptimal release sites without a sufficient food source forcing the beaver/s to move on;
  • predation by bear, mountain lions or others;
  • competition with other beavers who may already be present or passing through within the territory;
  • lack of materials and conditions for den and dam building;
  • conflicts with other nearby beavers; and
  • premature death caused by stressors of human capture, handling, and release.


Relocation as a "go to" solution addresses symptoms and not the problem on many western landscapes – the absence of the conditions that beavers need to succeed and thrive, naturally. 

Natural Beaver Recovery
If restored lands are your concern. . . how then, can we help beaver recovery and re-establishment across degraded landscapes without access to relocated beavers?

First, we must appreciate that natural systems work on their own timeline, not ours.  As history reveals over and over again, well-intended attempts to control nature, forced at scale on human timelines, often fall short or create bigger problems for the natural order of things. Taking time in our approach to better understand and work within natural cycles is essential.

Second, we believe that pursuing thoughtful, measured and adaptive 'process-based' solutions that working thoughtfully with nature will yield better, long term results.  In other words:

“Go slow, in order to go fast”

Like all living species, beavers have their own agency. 

How might this look from a practical perspective?  What are the steps that we can take to support beaver re-establishment, at a stream or lake near you?

  • Improve Beaver Habitat with "BeaverHOODs" as a roadmap. Population pressures, degradation of stream and watershed health and loss of good habitat exist at the root of beaver absence from our Oregon landscapes.  Addressing habitat must be addressed in order for beaver populations to recover. 
  • Support management practices that reduce the 'taking' of beavers
  • Share the good work of beavers on the landscape with a neighbor or friend

Want beaver on lands that you steward, but don't know where to start?

Contact us for a conversation by phone, or arrange for an onsite visit and Beaver Habitat Assessment.

541-362-1024 or beavers@thinkwildco.org

Building BeaverHOODs for Biodiversity

A BeaverHOOD is a territorial 'home base' area (usually about 1/2 miles in stream length) with the right conditions for a beaver family to establish and thrive.

The conditions of a BeaverHOOD include human tolerance, adequate food, water and shelter building materials available for a beaver family to successfully establish, survive and reproduce for future generations.

Beavers can re-establish themselves on the landscape again naturally — without human-assisted “'beaver relocation.”

CLICK TO LEARN MORE ABOUT BEAVERHOODS