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Beavers drive a wedge between Manitou Springs environmentalists, business owners 

Leave It To Beavers

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY DUSTIN GLATZ WITH ASSETS FROM SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Illustration by Dustin Glatz with assets from Shutterstock.com
As temperatures grew colder in Manitou Springs, the arrival of furry, buck-toothed neighbors drove a wedge between some business owners and residents.
An unusual influx of beaver activity in recent months cost the town some of its most prized trees. And as some wildlife lovers sought to find a solution that didn’t involve harming the hungry creek-dwellers, Evelyn Waggoner, the owner and operator of Green Willow Motel Cottages, took matters into her own hands.

Waggoner called Alpine Wildlife Control in early November to trap and euthanize three of the beavers.

City Councilor Becky Elder, an environmentalist who’s admired the species since childhood — when she says she earned the nickname “Becky Beaver” — was crushed.

“Some of us ... get our hearts broken, because we care,” she says. “... It’s a lot bigger than just a beaver or three dead beavers.”

All’s not lost: It appears at least one beaver still lives in the pond in Schryver Park, next to the Manitou Pool and Fitness Center. Elder hopes the city can implement a protocol that will allow its human and rodent residents to coexist in peace.

But while some hope such a plan could prevent future trapping, and even position Manitou as a destination for beaver lovers, others remain skeptical. Waggoner, for one, defends her decision.

“[M]any of our trees and bushes — most of which were planted over 50 years ago by my grandparents — were cut down and killed with no chance for regrowth,” she writes in an email. “One of the felled trees hit my cottage and caused damage. Left unchecked the beavers would surely have created more damage to our natural resources and endangered our property.”

It’s hard to say what caused the beavers to move into Manitou. Though Danu Fatt, who chairs the Park and Recreation Advisory Board, says “Manitou’s always had beavers pop up” every few years, Elder and Waggoner both think this particular group may have been displaced by construction.

Elder says the Westside Avenue Action Plan, an ongoing intergovernmental project that includes realigning Fountain Creek to accommodate a new bridge at Colorado Avenue and Columbia Road, is likely to blame.

Sherri Tippie, president of Denver-based nonprofit WildLife2000, had a slightly different take when she came to the city pool and fitness center to share her expertise with a group of Manitou residents on Nov. 6.

“Beaver are coming back to the areas where they belong,” Tippie said.

She’s been working with beavers for decades, live-trapping and relocating them (she always advises keeping families together) and educating humans on how to live in harmony with them.

A handout she provided for information session attendees says beavers benefit ecosystems by creating wetlands, preventing erosion, promoting biodiversity and improving water quality and quantity. Notably, for Manitou: “A network of beaver dams can help reduce high flows and downstream flooding.”

When asked whether beavers can benefit a creek environment, Colorado Springs City Forester Dennis Will sounds ambivalent. “Engineering- and people-wise,” he says, a beaver felling a large cottonwood — which he says is becoming more common along Monument Creek in Northeast Colorado Springs — “that’s not good.”
click to enlarge Sherri Tippie, left, shows off a 3D model of a “Castor Master” flow device. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Sherri Tippie, left, shows off a 3D model of a “Castor Master” flow device.

However, Will adds, “If you look at it in terms of what happens when you cut down a large-diameter cottonwood, it wants to reproduce itself,” and the hundreds of new sprouts can help stabilize a streambank.

Tippie says residents can take steps to live peacefully with beavers.

She suggests property owners wrap the trees they want to keep with 4-by-4 inch, heavy-gauge wire mesh to create a cylindrical cage at least 2½ to 3 feet high. And to make sure beavers’ handiwork doesn’t stop up a creek, a pipe system built from PVC and wire mesh can help maintain water flow through a dam.

But Tippie says such “Castor Master” flow devices can’t be built until the spring. And Colorado Parks and Wildlife won’t issue permits for WildLife2000, or anyone else, to trap and relocate beavers this time of year.

“Beavers are a species that a landowner can remove or euthanize if they are causing property damage,” writes CPW spokesperson Bill Vogrin, who says the department is aware of what happened in Manitou. “They are not obligated to relocate them. We do, on occasion, relocate beavers causing conflict in urban environments. Beavers cache food for the winter. To relocate beavers now would be sentencing them to starve to death in their new location.”

Fatt, the Park and Recreation Advisory Board chair, says Tippie’s advice left her somewhat disheartened. She, along with the other board members, had hoped there would be an easier way to save Manitou’s beavers than by building infrastructure.

“Everything costs money,” she says. “... It’s a really tough, tough issue here to come up with a workable solution.”

Ted Schmid, the owner and operator of Alpine Wildlife Control, says that while he always informs clients that they have options other than euthanizing an unwanted animal, he also wonders whether beavers are a good option for Manitou Springs, which already has flooding problems.

But Elder says that at a Nov. 7 budget meeting, Manitou City Council members seemed supportive of taking steps to wrap trees and build flow devices. She says the “beaver protocol” will require outside funding sources, and enlisting the help of local students.

Integral to that plan: Roy Chaney, the city pool’s director of aquatics and fitness, who’s been heading efforts to educate the public about beavers since the handiwork of “Manny the Beaver” appeared in the pond next to the pool about a month and a half ago. (Chaney’s invitation brought Tippie and Aaron Hall, a representative of Defenders of Wildlife, to talk about mitigation strategies.)

Chaney hopes that one day, with Council’s support, Schryver Park might host nature day camps where students can learn about beavers’ benefits to the environment.

Chaney was delighted to see that on the morning of Nov. 9, about half of the scraps of wood Tippie told him to leave by the pond had been added to Manny’s dam. He says Defenders of Wildlife is providing a camera to place by the dam and hopefully catch Manny in action.

Elder hopes to have an item discussing the beaver protocol on Council’s agenda in the next few weeks.

While both she and Chaney regret the loss of Green Willow’s euthanized beavers, they emphasize that their goal is not to make Waggoner the bad guy.

“I don’t want anyone vilified, including her, because if we don’t know what to do otherwise, that was the solution — you call a trapper,” Chaney says. “And so that’s OK, but now the idea is that we educate. Not only just, we’re going to allow the beaver here. We’re going to show how you do it here at the park — we’re going to have a demonstration of how we do our trees and how we survive with the beaver and how positive things can come from it.”

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