The peaceful coexistence of people and beavers in Danvers has come to an end.
In recent weeks, town officials said they had little choice but to remove some of the industrious rodents that populate local brooks and culverts.
The Board of Selectmen will meet on Sept. 3 to discuss the proliferation of beavers in wetlands and what, if anything, can be done to prevent them from creating dams such as the one that had to be disassembled at Beaver Brook last month. After the town obtained an emergency permit from its Board of Health, a trapper was hired to dismantle the dam and get the water flowing again.
He also trapped seven of the beavers – which ranged from 50 to 70 pounds – and had them euthanized. Massachusetts law prohibits relocation of beavers because of the concern of spreading disease.
Since spring, beavers had worked on constructing a 2-foot-high dam that stopped the water from flowing along the brook, a stream that runs from Route 1 and empties into the ocean in Danversport. By July, the water had nowhere to go but sideways over berms of brush before it crested along the stone fences that line Brentwood Circle. That’s when a group of homeowners noticed the rising waters and insisted that the town take action.
“It had to be removed; it was just incredible. We were concerned that the water would keep coming into our yards because it wasn’t going down,” said Ray Jalbert, who has lived with his wife, Mary, on Brentwood Circle for more than 40 years.
Historically, Danvers has had few problems with its beavers, said town health director Peter Mirandi.
The animals, which spend most of their time in the water, are vegetarians, eating such things as water lilies, twigs, bark, leaves, and roots.
Mirandi said for the town to approve an emergency permit to disrupt any habitat or to remove beavers, state law mandates that the Board of Health has to determine that their behavior has caused plumbing problems or created chronic dampness in people’s basements.
Mirandi said the emergency permit was approved by state wildlife officials after the brook’s stream slowed. “We saw the waters starting to penetrate close enough to [homes on Brentwood Circle] where we could say if we don’t do something, there’s going to be a public health hazard,” he said.
Beavers were a prized possession for early settlers in the 1600s, but because of overhunting and trapping, they disappeared from the state from 1750 to 1928, according to the Massachusetts Department of Fish & Game. In 1996, state voters approved a referendum that outlawed the use of leg traps to catch beavers, and since then the population has increased. By 2001, the state estimated that there were 70,000 beavers in the Commonwealth, a count that has remained steady.
The last significant flooding along Beaver Brook occurred in 1987, when sections of Endicott Park, a 165-acre recreational parcel owned by the town of Danvers, were underwater.
More than a decade ago, the town dredged the brook, improving the water flow, said Frank Diaz, who lives on Brentwood Circle.
With last month’s rising waters, Mary Jalbert said it was time for the town to take a proactive approach.
Since the beavers were removed, Mirandi has monitored the flow of Beaver Brook and is also checking in with other municipalities to see how they deal with the animals. Meanwhile, he thinks the problem is fixed, albeit temporarily.
“We’re not going to see the beavers for awhile; they’re cleared out,” he said.
Coming up with a proactive policy could be a harder task than just removing their dams.
“We don’t know if it’s feasible to come up with a long-term plan. We’ll have to study it,” he said.
Mirandi said the town would not consider dredging again because Beaver Brook has a large floodplain, an adjacent area of low-lying ground that is subject to flooding. “Dredging is not a reasonable option,” he said.
Mirandi said the town is considering holding a forum before next spring with recognized beaver experts. “When you deal with a natural habitat, it’s a delicate balance,” he said.
Linda Huebner, deputy director of advocacy for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said if the brook is good habitat, the beavers could be back within a year.
She recommended installing water-flow devices through a company called Beaver Solutions that control the water level in a beaver pond to prevent overflow.
The systems last for 10 or more years and in the long run, are more economical than dealing with dams every year.
“The trick is to outsmart [the beavers] by creating a way they can’t raise the water level,” Huebner said. “Beavers are a species we can coexist with peacefully.”