There was an inherent conflict between early agriculture and beavers. The fertile land flooded by beaver dams was prime farmland. The beaver fashion hat industry may have developed as a by-product of the early efforts to clear agricultural land in Europe. Most of the early the fur trade, led initially by the French voyagers, the North West Company, and the British Hudson’s Bay Company, drove settlement of North America. The beaver pelt was one of the most valuable furs, leading to virtual extinction of beavers in the early 1900’s. From a historical perspective it is interesting to note that the greatest harvest rates of beaver pelts in the Lake Superior region occurred prior to the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence. The few beavers that were left when land was homesteaded were likely removed since they were a hindrance to farming. Later government agricultural drainage programs went even further to reduce wetlands.
Another current area of conflict with beavers is that they tend to built dams that plug up road culverts. The reason for this is that the designs for road crossings tend to constrict the flow which speeds up the water, and tends to make riffling sounds. The sounds of flowing water in addition to a velocity threshold compel beavers to build dams. Clemson University has developed a correction for this problem with the “Clemson Pond Leveler.” This device is designed to quiet the sound of water and to reduce the directional velocity. A long term approach to this problem is to “just stop” constricting streams. Multiple box culverts and bridges are less constricting than single round culverts. Streams should be wider, deeper, and slower at road crossings. Our highway and waterway engineers need to be taught that constricting streams will inevitably lead to beaver problems (and associated costs). The potential for Beaver dam problems should be considered in all water project environmental impact statements and benefit cost analysis. It may be cheaper to just kill beavers, but it is more socially appealing to reduce the potential for beaver problems in the design phase of highway projects.