Local government

Hinesburg confronts destruction of beaver dams by landowner

by Ella Weigel And Carolyn Shapiro, Community News Service

Gregg Lyman enjoys watching the ducks and blue heron flock to the water where beavers build their dams in the LaPlatte River behind his house in Hinesburg. But when the water starts rising and creeping onto his land, he has to knock the dams down, he said.

Lyman, who lives on Gilman Road adjacent to the LaPlatte Headwaters Town Forest, said he has done this for years when the beaver dams threaten to flood his property. He doesn’t destroy the habitat, he said, but pushes over the beavers’ wood construction to let water flow over it.

“All I do out back is knock it down and prevent the water from flooding everybody’s property,” Lyman said.

Earlier this year, the Hinesburg Town Forest Committee learned that Lyman had gone into the town forest with heavy machinery and destroyed three beaver dams. The committee considered the incident a “violation of the conservation easement” on the land and voted to refer it to the Hinesburg Selectboard to take “further action,” according to the minutes from a committee meeting on Jan. 26.

Committee members didn’t know why Lyman damaged the beavers’ work, said Pat Mainer, who chairs the forest committee. The dams were “upstream from the landowner in question, so it wasn’t in any way threatening his property,” she said.

Although the details of the Hinesburg matter remain murky, it illustrates a common conflict in Vermont between beavers that live in protected areas and the humans nearby. Beaver dams create and expand wetland habitat, which supports an array of wildlife species. They also filter and slow down moving water, helping reduce nutrient loads in Lake Champlain, according to state environmental experts. Those beaver dwellings, though, can aggravate nearby property owners when wetland water levels rise and cause flooding in surrounding areas. 

“(Beaver) habitat is really important here in Vermont,” said Tyler Brown, a wildlife specialist with the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department and the state’s point person for handling beaver-human conflicts. “It’s really beneficial for a lot of fish and wildlife species. That wetland habitat is also important for people as well, for improving water quality and just being able to absorb a tremendous amount of water.”

In an interview this month, Lyman said his land was at risk from the beaver dams he razed in January.

“We become more and more under water,” he said, noting that his septic system is behind his home, where he has lived with his wife since 1993. “It’s not just a matter of a little trickle or a stream.”

Lyman is a contractor who owns Lyman Excavating in Hinesburg. He said he doesn’t usually use his equipment to knock down the beaver dams but happened to have a smaller excavator at his home at that time.

Todd Odit, Hinesburg’s town manager, told the town forest committee that he would speak with Lyman to try to resolve the issue. In a recent interview, Odit said he told Mainer, “Before elevating this encroachment to a selectboard meeting, I would try to reach out with the person suspected of making that encroachment and try to have a conversation.”

Odit told Lyman he could no longer dismantle the dams himself but had to alert the town when he had concerns about flooding, Lyman said. He agreed he would do that in the future, he said.

During the town forest committee’s March 9 meeting, Mainer said she and some other committee members were skeptical that the light-handed approach would prevent Lyman from continuing his dam-destroying practice.

“I taught middle school for 37 years, and I wasn’t into punishment, but any infraction … had a consequence,” Mainer said.

In 2007, Hinesburg acquired the 301 acres of the LaPlatte Headwaters, an area along the LaPlatte River between Gilman Road and Silver Street, to make available for public use. The Vermont Land Trust and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, which granted the land to the town, jointly hold the conservation easement on the property.

“Part of the reason for conserving (the forest) was that a lot of the agricultural land at the north end (of town) was originally wetlands,” Andrea Morgante, a local conservationist and founding member of the Hinesburg Land Trust, said.

Those wetlands were disturbed by the building of ditches and dredging for agriculture use in the 1930s and 1940s, she said. “Really the most efficient and economical and ecologically suitable way to restore a wetland is if you can let the beavers do the work for you.”

The easement was created to protect the diverse wildlife habitat, soil and water quality and natural landscape — which includes forests, fields, wetlands and areas along the river and streams. The easement prohibits “change of the topography of the land in any manner” and the town’s management plan specifies that only non-motorized and non-commercial recreational activities are permitted in LaPlatte Headwaters.

The LaPlatte Headwaters Town Forest Management Plan, which governs maintenance of and access to the property, cites the need to protect unique species of plants and animals there, including the endangered Indiana bat, described as the size of a human thumb.

The plan offers guidance on beavers: “Allow beavers and other native wetland species to recolonize and influence the areas along and around the LaPlatte. If beaver activity comes in conflict with other purposes of the conservation easement, town roads or culverts, or neighbors, consult with Vermont Fish and Wildlife biologists and the Chittenden County forester.”

For violations of the easement or management rules, the decision to pursue any action lies with the town, as owner of the land, said Abby White, spokesperson for the Vermont Land Trust.

The state would oversee issues involving beavers and dams, she added. “There’s multiple jurisdictions at play. It’s on town land, and there’s a conservation easement that we hold that allows for management of land. The state has regulations related to human-wildlife interactions.”

The fish and wildlife department offers a beaver baffle program to help landowners, road crews and municipalities that have problems with beaver activity. Baffles are tubes installed in dams to allow water to flow through, controlling river levels while maintaining the beaver construction.

Brown said he gets about 400 calls and emails a year from residents mostly concerned about flooding from nearby dams. Of those, he visits about 50 sites in person and installs baffles or exclusion fences in about 15 locations.

State wildlife department representatives visited Lyman’s home in the past to talk about his handling of beaver dams and never challenged his methods, he said.

“It’s the same spot I’ve been working with for the 30 years I’ve been here,” Lyman said.

Categories: Local government

8 replies »

  1. Better than what they did in a notorious town located in southern Vermont 20 years ago. The select board would direct the town’s highway department employees to get their guns and shoot & kill the beavers in the “State protected” Class 2 wetlands expanse. This was to “control” the dangerous & destructive behaviors of the Beavers.

    The Select Board members warned the residents not to complain about the practice.

    To the best of my knowledge, none of the select board members were members of PETA.

  2. So property tax paying land owners that fund the municipalities aren’t allowed to protect their property but towns can utilize tax payer funds to trap and kill beavers to protect municipal property? Maybe its time to question property taxes.

    • They never trapped them. They shot them in the wetlands point blank from the roadside & left their carcasses to rot. Eyewitness. As far as protection goes – it accomplishes nothing except perhaps leaving babies to cruelly suffer & then die. The Beaver population is the same now as it was then. Think of the US government culling with Covid19(!) – they still manage to have most of the same ‘ol mature, free-thinking, sensible population who learned proper history & civics in school, were instructed in the evils of Communism, and learned about DNA in biology & the differences in the two sexes……..sometimes culling just doesn’t cut it.

      But they WILL try again. And again.

  3. Here is the shining example why H.126 should be vetoed yet again.
    A regulatory nightmare with claimed “unforeseen consequences” that were in fact plain for all to see. As Environmental evangelists continue to enact legislation for “conservation” protracted legal battles will become everyday problems for landowners. What was once accepted practice becomes “horrific actions” as seen by the evangelist and punishment of the landowner is deemed the only solution.
    Meanwhile, Beavers will continue being Beavers…

  4. I have had my share of battles with the beavers and the beavers mostly won. If you think beavers don’t attack humans you’d be wrong. My teenaged son and myself were attacked by an angry beaver. First the beaver gave some warning slaps of his tail but when that didn’t work he charged right at us. His teeth seemed to grow even longer as we tried to get out of the water. Surely he wouldn’t keep charging us on land. We were wrong. He kept on charging on land until we were able to climb a huge boulder . We have a big beaver pond on our property. The beavers had chopped down all the trees near the pond so they started chopping down trees further into the woods . They chopped down several large cherry and yellow birch trees We thought how nice. The beavers cut down our winter wood supply. We bucked up the trees and stacked the wood to dry in the woods. When we went to pick up the wood months later it was all gone. We thought somebody had stollen our wood and we were very upset. Turns out the beavers had rolled all the chunks of wood down the hill and into the beaver pond. They must have been busy beavers.

    Beavers can be very destructive and I personally know three people who have died as a result of washed out beaver dams. So there is lots to consider when dealing with beavers.

  5. I remember the good old days when they would dynamite the dams. Far more spectacular

  6. They have to keep knocking down the beaver dams in centennial woods in Burlington or they would eventually washout Patchen Road, the only way you can get to the airport without going through a mess of traffic but while they are slow getting to the wildlife that develops is utterly fantastic while seems a small price to pay for the washed out bridges in the paths going through it, and furthermore they put parking meters on the UVM access entrance and put the field and parking lot on the Patchen road side strictly off limits so if you want to enjoy nature in the City of Burlington you got to go out to the area that’s a left turn off Shelburne Road by Wendy’s but in winter it’s the absolute last place they plow after a snow storm, and that’s the reason I’m inclined to regard. UVM and the cities around it hypocritical about the health and well-being of their citizens if not downright piggish. By god I miss those beavers specially watching teach their young in’s how to go about building dams and chomping on the sapplins, owls chasing crows and egrets fishing.

  7. Everyone loves the beavers until the water begins to rise. I hope some of the complainers get a lot water approaching their front yards. Beavers are currently reaching nuisance level. As to water quality, anyone ever had giardia?…yeah, you can get get it from beavers. If that was me, in addition to dam alterations, I’d be quietly trapping them out and eating them, very similar to venison.

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