Dam it! Milford beaver control sparks conflict

MILFORD – Beavers must do what they do – build dams and lodges. And humans must do what they do – protect land from beaver activity when the busy aquatic construction work threatens property.

That is part of the way people and the animals co-exist, said Fred Elkind, Milford’s conservation coordinator, responding to a letter to the editor this week criticizing the town for breaching a dam at Heron Pond.

In August, the town Department of Public Works removed some of the beaver dam at the pond, located on the town-owned Brox property.

Suzanne Fournier, who leads a group called Brox Environmental Citizens, charged in her letter that the breach is destructive.

Removing part of the dam creates a “massive loss of water down to mud flats in some spots,” she wrote, harming “the many species of wildlife that require the water in the pond to endure our long New Hampshire winter, such as beavers, fish, muskrats and turtles” and the beaver family’s underwater entrance to their lodge is now out of the water and exposed to the elements.

Elkind said DPW workers removed some of the structure by hand, without heavy equipment, “inch by inch” to do as little damage as possible.

“The DPW saw the risks” … downstream and were concerned about the height of the water and its potential to harm property on Whitten Road, he said by phone on Monday.

When dealing with beaver, the town tries for a balanced point of view, he said. While some people are dedicated solely to natural resources and protection of the animals, others want to protect trails and man–made objects.

“We have this love-hate relationship with beaver,” he said. “If they are flooding your property you hate them,” but they are also a source of new ponds and wetlands.

In this case, he said, the high water elevation created by the dam threatened the DPW’s gravel–removal staging area and the access road to Heron Pond School.

No real harm was done when the dam was breached, he said, “The beaver will repair that dam and it will be right back where it was.”

“Everyone would agree we have to be careful” about the water elevation, he said, that is “just part of man being there.”

In the past, beaver dams were blown away with dynamite, causing water to rush downstream and erode the banks of rivers and streams, he said, and that is a method that is no longer acceptable.

Fournier notes in her letter that Merrimack is starting a town beaver problem management plan relying on state-of-the-art beaver piping and fencing.

In fact, Elkind said, the Milford Conservation Commission has invited an expert on beaver pipes to come here. Beaver dam-building activity is triggered by the sound of rushing water, and the pipes and fencing block the rushing sound, though the technique “is not 100 percent foolproof.”

Fournier also said the source of the water problem is at the Heron Pond School driveway where there is an under-sized, inadequate culvert channeling Birch Brook, causing the water to sometimes back up to Whitten Road.

Elkind agreed that the culvert is smaller than one that would be built now, and its pitch is not ideal.

Fournier and the Brox Environmental Citizens have been critical of the town’s overall approach to planning for the Brox land, which was purchased by the town in 2000. In particular, they say conservation should be a high priority in the southern half of the 270-acre property.

The master plan for Brox calls the southern half “community lands,” where town officials are planning for sports fields, schools, cemeteries and other municipal structures.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at kcleveland@cabinet.com or 673–3100, ext. 304.