Medcalf appeals to selectmen — Give Shorey Park beavers a chance

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

FRIEND OR FOE? — Some certainly frown upon the work done by beavers in Shorey Park, while Lega Medcalf hopes town officials can find a humane way to handle the problem.

At night, Bridgton sleeps, but the beavers in downtown Shorey Park are busy.

Heedless of the human habitat they live within, the beavers leave the safety of their lodge on the waterway between Highland Lake and Stevens Brook. Then they do what busy beavers always do.

They chew. And chew. And chew.

How does a beaver know which tree to cut down? Whichever one he chews.

In the past year, these rodent engineers have changed the park’s landscape by chewing down trees with their sharp front teeth. Evidence of their nocturnal industry is seen in tree trunks, sheared off or half-eaten; it’s seen in higher water levels caused by flows blocked by a wall of felled branches and trees; most noticeably, it’s seen by a new structure, the wooden dome they call home.

Some humans see only damage to their beautiful park, and say it’s time for the beavers to be either trapped and relocated or destroyed. But Bridgton resident Lega Medcalf sees an urban park that’s become home to a native species, and that “makes me very excited.” On May 22, she pleaded with the Bridgton Board of Selectmen to consider using human engineering to modify beaver engineering, and allow beavers and humans to co-exist.

“Just today I saw a man at Shorey Park, taking pictures of the beaver lodge,” Medcalf told the board, as she gave them a PowerPoint presentation of proven methods, used in Augusta and other Maine communities, to mitigate damage by beaver colonies. “He seemed to be very charmed by the lodge.”

Medcalf said one method to control flooding caused by beaver dams is to install bafflers in the water made of pipe or metal mesh fencing formed into culverts. The bafflers disperse the flow of water in such a way as to decrease dam-building activity by the beavers, who are stimulated to repair breaches in their dams by the sound, feel and sight of running water.

The bafflers cost around $2,500 each, which Medcalf realizes isn’t cheap. But she said she’s willing to lead a donation drive, and also seek funding through grants. She has already organized an educational “Beaver Festival,” with movies and talks by wildlife experts, planned for Saturday, June 16. The event is being hosted by both the Bridgton Public Library and the Bridgton Community Center.

“In other communities where people have welcomed beavers, there are a lot of positive benefits” in terms of tourism and an eco-friendly public image, Medcalf said. “I would love to see us try to co-exist with our wildlife,” she said, and have the town of Bridgton “be known as an animal-friendly town.”

Selectman Vice-Chairman Woody Woodward said it seemed reasonable to look into what other towns have done to address the problem. Public Works Director Jim Kidder said the town has already wrapped a lot of the park’s trees, at the direction of Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz. Medcalf said the best way to protect trees is to surround their trunk with galvanized wire, set 6½ inches away from the tree.

Trapping and relocation isn’t the answer, Medcalf said, because sooner or later a new colony of beavers will simply take its place. If no trapping takes place after a colony moves to a new location (as is the case at Shorey Park), the beaver population may peak, but it eventually drifts down to a sustainable level.

Relocated beavers rarely stay in the area where they’re released, Medcalf added. If the town drives them out of Shorey Park by destroying their dam, the beavers may well decide to build downstream on private property — thereby shifting the problem to a property taxpayer.

Chuck Renneker owns the downstream building that’s home to Beth’s Café, where an inviting space with tables and chairs awaits customers down by the brook. He said there are trees on his property that are 30 feet tall, and he would want to be “notified of the danger to my property” if beavers are removed from Shorey Park.

Medcalf agreed that the beavers have done a lot of damage to trees in the park, and she acknowledged that “sometimes they need to be trapped and killed.” But she said she wanted the board to at least consider, “if there is a way to humanely handle the problem” instead.

Selectman Doug Taft, a licensed trapper, was silent throughout Medcalf’s presentation. Then, he said, he couldn’t help himself; he had to speak up. He said the technology of today’s trapping methods is “very humane,” and that sometimes beaver damage is only controlled through “responsible harvesting.”

Taft said, “There is a concern by a lot of people on Highland Lake” about flooding and other damage done by beaver colonies. He told Medcalf, “You will find there’s not a lot of people who are warm and fuzzy about beavers.” The crops of farmers along the Saco River are destroyed when beavers dam up the tributaries,” Taft pointed out. He said, “You have to trust the guidelines of the state to handle nuisance beavers,” and those guidelines suggest trapping as the most efficient method.

Woodward said he has also received a lot of calls from residents concerned about the damage caused by beavers in Shorey Park. He said his property at the Highland Lake Resort has had its own share of trees decimated by beavers.

In the audience was Peter Lowell, executive director of the Lakes Environmental Association, and he was asked to join the debate. He said trapping takes place at Holt Pond, a nature preserve, but for the most part the trappers and nature seekers have co-existed fairly well.

“We ask (the trappers) to leave at least one colony” for visitors to enjoy, Lowell said. Beavers have created some problems to the boardwalk that winds through wetlands, but LEA hasn’t done any management of beaver colonies in the preserve. Along the Stevens Brook Trail, beavers have constructed three or four dams downstream from the Magic Lantern, said Lowell, who noted that LEA has not had to deal with the town’s issue of beavers in a “highly visible town park.”

Berkowitz told Medcalf the town currently has “no plans to touch anything at Shorey Park,” and that beaver nuisance issues in town are handled on “a case-by-case basis.”

Medcalf said she was “satisfied that everyone understands the big picture,” and thanked the board for hearing her out. “If they leave, they leave,” she said of the Shorey Park beavers. People like seeing a beaver lodge in the midst of downtown, she said.

It just may be that, if allowed to stay, these industrious creatures could teach much to humans about building a better downtown.

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