Eastern Wildlife Damage Control Conferences


Date of this Version

September 1989


"For when we speak of the fur trade, we mean the beaver trade. Other furs were handled; others — notably the rich sea otter — were more valuable by far. But the beaver was the root and core of the trade ... Many men died, a continent was explored, an indigenous [human] race degraded and its culture crushed; all because beaver fur, with its tiny barbs, felted up better than any other" (Berry 1961:18).

The habits of beaver (Castor canadensis) allow them to be located and trapped readily, resulting in their extirpation from many areas. Beaver populations have recovered through successful reintroduction and management programs. But the difficulty of preparing beaver pelts for marketing, coupled with low pelt prices, has resulted in high populations of beaver considered to be under-harvested in many areas, even though annual harvests are greater now than in recorded history (Novak 1987). This is a reflection of human density as well as beaver density. Any wild animal is labeled a nuisance whenever human conflict is involved. The beaver's same habits render it especially prone to nuisance status even reaching political concern (Payne and Peterson 1986).

Efforts to control beaver populations have been expensive and persistent, largely with marginal and temporary success. Habitat alteration through forest type conversion might be the most effective long-term method of reducing beaver density in some areas, relative to the feasibility of harvesting streamside deciduous trees and shrubs and replacement with closed canopy coniferous plantations. But beaver can subsist on alder (Alnus spp.), and rhizomes of white water lily (Nymphaea odorata) and yellow water lily (Nuphar varieqatum), although at lower densities, as well as willow (Salix spp.) (Allen 1983), all of which are likely to occur to some extent with any alteration in habitat type. Moreover, reduced food availability might force beaver colonies to move more often, possibly increasing nuisance complaints. Habitat use seems to depend mainly on physical factors, not food; manipulating forest resources might be of little use in controlling beaver populations (Beier and Barrett 1987).