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Economic and dam related articles

On Slackwater Snake River,
Beavers Plague Fruit Growers

by Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 15, 2006

LEWISTON, Idaho -- Fruit farmers near the Snake River say slackwater created by a federal dam built 30 years ago has brought on a beaver plague, with the chewing water rodents destroying apple and pear trees whose replacements take years to bear fruit.

Lafe and Joe Wilson's family has operated an orchard near Alpowa Creek, just over the border in Washington state, for 100 years.

But they say it's been only since the Lower Granite Dam was built in 1975 that they've had to fend off the bucktoothed, bark-eating mammals. Last week alone, they say, the beavers destroyed 20 pear trees.

And the two men, who run Wilson's Banner Ranch, weren't happy about a story that garnered headlines last week touting a beaver rescue. The Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine successfully recovered an injured beaver and released it into the wild near Chief Timothy Park at the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake rivers.

"Where should they go but up Alpowa Creek?" Lafe Wilson told the Lewiston Tribune. "Chief Timothy doesn't have much vegetation for beaver - but Alpowa Creek is loaded with it."

Wildlife officials have released beavers in the Snake River near Chief Timothy Park in the past and the Wilson brothers believe the influx is adding to their crop - and money - losses.

A fruit-producing apple tree earns roughly $150 a year, the brothers said. But when beavers attack a tree, replacement fruit does not return for at least six years.

On Thursday, the Wilson brothers walked through their orchard and counted more than 20 pear trees pillaged and chomped by beavers in the last week.

The animals also had chewed off the limbs of several apple trees.

"I think they like the red delicious," Joe Wilson said.

Beavers were of no worry to Wilson's grandfather, Weldon, when he planted the orchard's first seeds more than 100 years ago.

But in 1975, the Lower Granite Dam turned the nearby Snake River to slackwater. The dam destroyed the riparian habitat on the river and the beavers migrated up Alpowa Creek and started eating trees, the Wilsons said.

When the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife offered little help in beating back the pests, their father, Eugene, took to trapping beavers himself.

He ensnared seven animals and the problem disappeared for more than 20 years.

But in the last decade the beavers have returned, the brothers said. Dams built by beavers have also caused minor flooding problems at the ranch.

"You can't even knock out the darn dams but we've been doing it," Joe Wilson said.

Madonna Luers, spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in Spokane, said officials where unaware of the Wilsons' problems. The department does not have a policy of releasing beavers in the area, she said.

"Typically they don't relocate anything anymore in Washington state," Luers said. "With the development, there is just not a lot of places to put critters."

Instead, most beavers, skunks or raccoons that are trapped are euthanized, she said.

But trapping is more difficult today than it was 30 years ago when Lafe and Joe Wilson's father killed seven beavers.

In 2002, voters in Washington passed an initiative limiting the types of traps farmers can use to snarl beavers. Initiative 713 banned the use of leg and steel traps.

Bill Foreyt, a professor at the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine in Pullman, works as a nuisance animal trapper as a side business.

He said demand for private trappers has increased as the number of pesky animals has grown and trapping options have dwindled.

"We have very few options for controlling these nuisance animals," he said. "People love these animals. They are beautiful, but when they start causing significant damage they get a little upset."

Information from: Lewiston Tribune,

Associated Press
On Slackwater Snake River, Beavers Plague Fruit Growers
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 15, 2006

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