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Cumberland officials make peace with Diamond Hill beavers

August 27, 2013

CUMBERLAND – A family of beavers who faced being trapped and killed for causing tree damage and flooding at Diamond Hill Park last spring have gone from condemned prisoners on death row to the new star attractions of what town officials are hoping will be a natural outdoor exhibit to showcase the park’s diverse flora and fauna.

Mayor Daniel J. McKee told the Town Council recently that he is working with Robert Thurston and other concerned citizens, in a group known collectively as “Save the Beavers,” on a plan to save the critters from being exterminated and, instead, keep them where they are as natural attractions for visitors to the park. At the same time, the group is studying options to minimize future tree and flooding damage.

“I’ve met with some individuals to make sure the beavers become a kind of attraction for that facility in terms of the lodge and dam,” McKee told the council. “As long as we don’t have a lot of people asking to take the beavers out of there, we’ll make it an asset of the park.”
Last spring, the beaver family, lodged at Sylvie's Brook at Diamond Hill Park, caused extensive tree damage and flooding near the baseball fields, which prompted complaints from some town residents. After initially stating that he was considering having a local exterminator to kill the beavers, Parks and Recreation Director Michael Crawley scrapped the plan after some members of the public protested.

According to Crawley, the four-member beaver family showed up two years ago and includes a breeding male and female and their offspring of two breeding seasons.

“We received complaints and we had to investigate those complaints,” Crawley said back in April. “Our intent in contacting Critter Control (a Greenville-based wild animal control firm) was to have them come out and assess the situation. I understand there are two sides to this. Some people consider them a nuisance and capable of a lot of destruction, while others want to protect them. So, for now, we’re going to think about it and then make a decision which way to go.”

Crawley said in April that he wanted to see how much damage occurs through the summer months before deciding whether or not to revisit the option to have the beavers trapped and killed during next year’s hunting season.

But Town Council President James T. Higgins said as of now, there are no plans by the town to eradicate the beavers from Diamond Hill Park.
Instead, McKee said, the town will let them be and use them to highlight the unique wildlife at the park.

The beaver is the largest rodent in North America, with adults ranging from 35 to 46 inches long and weighing from 45 to 60 pounds
Beavers construct dams which result in the formation of ponds within which the lodge and winter food cache are located. It is believed to be a combination of water flow sensation and the sound associated with running water that stimulates this dam-building activity. Within and around the pond, the beavers construct canals for security and for the transport of food and building materials. Beavers are primarily active at night with regard to their dam building and tree-cutting activity.

The impoundments created by beavers provide valuable wildlife habitat for assorted furbearer and waterfowl species. In this way, the beaver provides valuable ecological benefits to the public at large. On the other hand, the beaver's dam-building activity can result in widespread flooding of woodlands and agricultural land and cause numerous complaints by plugging road culverts, flooding roads, railroad tracks and causing general property damage concerns.

The news that Cumberland is planning to save the beavers was welcomed by Dennis Tabella, president of the statewide animal rights group Defenders of Animals.

“It’s 2013 and we should be looking at more humane methods of dealing with these kinds of issues,” says Tabella. “The problem is that town managers and people in town government aren’t looking around at all the different options that are available.”

Tabella says the town of Scituate is a good example of a community that chose to deal with a nuisance wildlife problem in a “thoughtful and humane manner.”

In 2000, he said, the town agreed to work with Defenders of Animals to solve a beaver problem in Potterville Brook without killing them. The beavers had been blocking a culvert that passes beneath Nipmuc Road, causing water from the brook to flood residential property.

At first, the town was considering having the beavers trapped and killed by a fur trader, but Defenders of Animals asked the town to stop the trapping and offered to pay for a network of plastic pipes that he says allowed water to pass through the culvert and deter the animals from damming the passage. The contraptions were installed near the culvert and, so far, have deterred beaver activity.

"We think that Scituate could be the model for other Rhode Island communities regarding humane systems for beaver control," Tabella said.

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