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Portland Learns to Live With Urban Beavers

October 23, 2015

Producer: Vince Patton  Videographers: Nick Fisher, Todd Sonflieth, Michael Bendixen  Editor: Todd Sonflieth

Additional Photos & Video: Metro, Tualatin Hills Parks & Recreation, Cleanwater Services-Dave Weich, Vince Patton, Katie Harris, Frank Maestas

During a decade-long building boom around the Portland area, many builders have ignored zoning laws, permit rules and property lines.

They steal their building materials and construct new homes in the secrecy of darkness.

Charlie and Sue Kornahrens, who live near Portland’s Raleighwood Park, discovered thieves were stealing their trees and knew immediately who the suspects were.

Urban beavers.

“See him?” asks Sue as she points to a beaver swimming in a pond behind their home. “Way out there. He’s going really fast!”

Thanks to beaver dams, the Kornahrens’ yard has flooded. Yet they see no reason to be upset with the disappearance of their meadow.

“You know, it’s like a new adventure and it’s just fun,” says Sue.  “I mean, the beavers were here before we were here so, you know, this is their home, too.”

In Tigard, Kyle and Katie Harris have watched beavers raise babies behind their back fence.

Says Katie, “We realized there was something rippling in the water and something large swimming in the creek. It was a very large beaver that was just munching along, chewing on sticks."

Even their cat, Jicama, likes to watch the beavers. He will perch at the edge of the creek as beavers swim by just feet away.

Kyle Harris says, “They’ve been wonderful for us. They’ve turned what would be a sleepy neighborhood stream into a little wetland and we get all the wildlife that comes with it.”

But beavers are not everyone’s favorite neighbors.

Also in Tigard, Frank and Linda Maestas watched Derry Dell Creek rise right up to their deck.

“It just kept getting higher and higher and it was under our deck,” says Frank. “And you couldn’t even walk on here without putting your waders on.”

They wrapped protective metal mesh around trees and their deck supports, installed lights on motion detectors, and left talk radio on overnight. No success. Frank then tried demolishing their dam, but the beavers kept building.

He added a perforated pipe to keep water flowing under their dam. The beavers promptly clogged it with mud.

Frank says, “I’m more impressed, annoyed, the same. Kind of frustrating when you work on it all the time and they just keep beating you.”

The Maestas do not want the beavers killed. They concede that the damage the beavers are causing to their property leaves them conflicted.

Linda says, “If we didn’t live right here, I would be saying we should leave the beavers alone.”

Carla Staedter with Tigard Public Works, says, “Everybody can look at this and have a different view of it. If you are a natural resource person, there is no damage being caused.”

Carla says agencies like hers now appreciate how the beavers lock water into a watershed and help prevent larger flooding events.

Ten years ago, the city might have immediately had the beavers trapped and killed. Removal is still an option, but one they’re much more hesitant to deploy.

“Trapping is dramatic because the traps that are used hold them under the water,” says Carla. “It just seems like a sad way for a beaver to go, by drowning.”

These days, public agencies all over the metro area are taking a new, gentler approach: They’re finding ways to let beavers be beavers.

Tigard did try to help Frank and Linda. The city replaced frank’s pipe with one that’s better protected. It also put in “beaver deceivers” to level the pond and protect private property, including the city’s new culvert.

Carla says the water level dropped two feet within the first week after the diversion was installed.

“We can get the benefits of the spreading out of the water into the flood plain,” says Carla, “but we save the folks on the other side of the trees from flooding their houses.”

In Beaverton, a big chunk of Greenway Park is no longer open to the public thanks to beavers.

John Gaddis, a natural resource and trail specialist for Tualatin Hills Parks & Recreation District says, “We are in Beaver Town. There are no shortages of beavers in Beaverton, for sure.”

Ducks swim where people used to walk because of the dam. Cottonwoods lie scattered where beavers have chewed them through their trunks. Perpetual standing water blocks the trail and cuts the park in half.

Disc golfers weren’t happy because part of their course is now off limits.

His noontime golf buddy, Mike Barrett, complains they only have three easy access golf holes before they hit the fence. “Then we’ve got to take a long walk clear around to go play another two or three holes,” says Mike.

THPRD later relocated golf holes but kept a portion of the trail closed.

Just like the public works department in Tigard, Tualatin Parks thinks we’ve got to learn to live with beavers, not remove them.

“I completely understand why patrons are disappointed that they can’t use this section of trail,” says Gaddis.  “I think there’s a balance in there. I think that this will be a site where water levels will be able to persist to somedegree. But there probably will be some degree of access through here. We’re not finding many easy answers."

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A beaver caught on a remote camera at night.

Tualatin Hills Parks & Recreation District

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