Beavers are reportedly causing backups in some Rice County ditches, leaving ditch owners with expensive repairs and county officials grappling with how to fix the problem.

The latest option the Rice County Board of Commissioners could consider includes a per animal bounties to remove them from the drainage systems in Rice County, an initiative undertaken in some other counties throughout Minnesota. Le Sueur County enacted a beaver bounty in 2018 after the animals caused trouble on Lake Washington, building dams that were backing up Shanaska Creek in the eastern portion of the county. A bounty system is not currently in place in either Steele or Waseca counties.

Waseca Soil and Water Conservation District Technician Tyler Polster said his county doesn't have plans to implement such a bounty system, adding that beavers have not proven to be a substantial problem in ditches in that portion of southeastern Minnesota. 

Steve Pahs, Rice Soil and Water Conservation District district manager, told the county's Ditch and Highway Committee last week that there has been an upswing in beavers in the area. While giving the annual ditch inspector’s report, Pahs said a beaver dam had caused issues on a public ditch near Little Chicago in Webster Township. Pahs referred the idea to the county board for discussion. 

To Pahs, a bounty system could motivate trappers to remove the beavers and dams from the area. Currently, trappers are seen as unmotivated because of low fur prices. Pahs, who has worked for Rice County for 13 years, has noticed beaver dams in a couple sites per year.

Pahs said not removing the beavers from ditches can prove detrimental to the system by inhibiting the water flow. That restriction raises water levels, causing backups and drainage outlets to be submerged. Fixing the backups can prove expensive: Pahs said it can cost up to $1,000 to have a contractor come in and remove a beaver dam.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, "Wherever they have become too numerous, they cause problems for people. Their dams flood farmlands, roads and timber, and their penchant for chewing wood has resulted in the loss of valuable fruit and shade trees."

Pahs emphasized that he is not advocating for complete eradication of beavers. Instead, he said they should be allowed to flourish in natural settings as they provide flood control benefits in unaltered streams.

Under state law, local road authorities or governments can, after consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Division, implement a beaver control program designed to reduce the number of beavers if the population is interfering with or damaging a public road, or causing damage to drainage ditches on public property.

Rice County Commissioner Jeff Docken said the county will continue to monitor the situation to determine whether a bounty system is needed. He noted commissioners have not developed a decision timeline but could wait another year to see how the problem evolves, adding that if beavers continue to plague some private ditches, he would support implementing a bounty system. Fellow Rice County Commissioner Steve Underdahl said he needs “a little more information” before making a decision.

This is hardly a new situation in the region. An October 2011 News article noted beavers at that time were also creating problems by damming up storm drains on both the southeast and north sides of Northfield. 

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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