Why we don’t relocate beavers – DRAFT

DRAFT in progress Sep 2022

Why don't we relocate beavers?
We often get phone calls from folks who:
1) want problem beavers removed from an area, and then those who
2) want beavers on their property, recognizing the ecological benefits that the presence of successful beaver family can have on the landscape.

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

Indeed, this program began in 2019 with a goal to provide beaver relocation services. We sought out the training and best practices from those doing relocation work, got current on state policies around translocation, and talked to all the right folks - those in river restoration work, landholders and agencies stewarding the land, and our local ODFW professionals whom we hold in high regard.

But here's what we learned and why we don't relocate beavers nor advocate for attempts to do so:

1. That stream restoration goals very often are not achieved by importing in a family of beavers,

2. Relocation of a 'problem beaver' away from a location also very often doesn't work, and

3. The trauma and loss caused to beaver individuals or families through relocation was a non-starter for us

And so, while relocating beavers is often presented as a happy occasion - ‘rescue a beaver’ solution – we’ve come to view relocation with concerns for all involved. It's why we don't relocate beavers as a service.

Here's why beaver relocation doesn't work:

1. Relocation doesn't work for the Beaver/s
Let’s start with the star of this story – and the current media darling - the beavers themselves:

  • Beavers are easily stressed by human handling.
    Beaver individuals are known to be quite shy, they easily stress. Handling by a predator species - man - causes trauma for any wild animal, and should be minimized in the extreme especially with beavers at our veterinary and rehabilitation 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, and stay with the  family unit for a full two years before dispersing. Live trapping a full family for relocation can be challenging, and families can often be separated in attempts to live trap and relocate to another site.
  • Capture loss through antiquated Hancock traps (designed 90 years ago).
    Early in our training we participated in the live-trapping of a family of 4 'problem' beavers (two adults, two young kits).  As intended, one adult and one kit were caught in the live traps.  Sadly, the 2nd kit was killed by the live trap on closure. More sadly, the 2nd adult of the pair was not successfully captured in the days that followed - she had moved on. Her family taken away from her, or killed in the live-trapping encounters.
    This outcome could have been prevented with the installation of a flow device to address the resident's concern. But a reflex response had been built over the years around "beaver relocation", instead of exploring coexistence solutions. Unfortunately, outcomes like these for the beavers/s are not uncommon.
  • Disease spread. Beaver relocation is fraught with risk of disease transmission between individual beaver and between populations of beaver. In Oregon, disease spread concerns include cryptosporidium, tularemia, plague, and lysteriosis.  These diseases are deadly, and known to be transmitted between beavers when inbound beavers encounter nearby resident beavers.

2. Relocation doesn't work for a “Problem Beaver” Situation

If the habitat, hydrology and geomorphic conditions are right for a beaver to settle and start tree-felling and damming, they’ll continue to do so – time after time. So "live-trapping" beavers is often only a short term solution for the landholder with the "beaver problem".

For a program that's setup for relocating beavers, this then becomes the "go to" response.  ("When all that you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail")

Rather than reaching for practical solutions with readily available materials, the default is to relocate - often to suboptimal locations for the beaver.

See the Beaver Institute's Solutions page for examples of beaver mitigation techniques.

3. Relocation very often does achieve riparian restoration goals
With beaver relocation many in beaver world will report that beavers will stick around (remain at target release site) only 20% to 30% of the time.

Relocation to a target restoration site often falls short of addressing the problem of insufficient habitat (Read more about this in The Way Forward). Really just addressing the symptom not the problem – The essential problem of not enough habitat.

Here's what we've seen:

  • Only 1 in 5 beaver relocation sites, beavers actually stick around. When they do, it’s magic. But there are plenty of other beaver complex areas that happen organically on their own – beavers can and travel long distances (up to 100 miles in a season) to find optimal habitat for settling down
  • Sub-optimal release sites. A post-release site visit yielded only bears in the monitoring cameras, no beavers.
    This release site was suboptimal - with scant food for sustinance or sediment for dam building.  The conditions necessary for beavers to do their thing.

How instead to meet restoration goals and beaver re-establishment goals in a degraded landscape?

  • Habitat. Habitat. Habitat. The root cause of the ‘lack of beavers’ issue, and key to beaver re-establishment, must be addressed.
  • While learning to live with wildlife, with solutions to adapt infrastructure
  • In doing so, also address habitat for all other species – during 6th extinction
  • We’re getting excited about BeaverHOODS

Don’t relocate – it’s bad for beavers, and its ineffective for both problem beaver sites and stream restoration goals.

By the Numbers (Draft in progress). 
In evaluating reported numbers, combined with first-hand accounts:

  • Mortality on capture   5 - 15%
    The most common live-traps in use (the Hancock trap) are antiquated in design, challenging to set and prone to cause drowning or deadly trauma.
  • Mortality in handling and husbandry   5 - 10%
    Beavers are one of the shyest mammals and stress easily even with the most experienced handlers.

  • Release success rate (beavers successfully stick around)   Only 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.
  • Success Rate for "problem" beaver removal site - only 20%
    The likelihood that a vacated 'problem beaver' site will stay vacant during a 3 year period.

- 10 research reports (See Compilation of 10 documented Beaver Studies and Reports through Sept 2022)
- The Beaver Institute
- First hand accounts by BWO Crew