SCHENECTADY — Leave it to beavers to build dams.
That’s just what their instincts tell them to do.
But their industriousness has led to flooding at Woodlawn Preserve.
Problems have steadily mounted over the past half-decade as beavers have set up stakes, including blockage of a drain pipe that ran underneath the railroad.
City workers were being deployed nearly every other week to clean out the culvert.
A series of beaver-built dams also led to elevated water levels in the basin.
Flooding not only affected the ecosystem, but interfered with community events, including an annual fishing day.
“Trails were so flooded, people couldn’t fish,” said Janet Chen, president of the nonprofit Friends of the Woodlawn Preserve.
Friends reached out to the city Engineering Department for help.
“We observed a very high amount of beaver activity in the preserve,” said City Engineer Chris Wallin. “It was determined we needed to trap the beavers.”
While the 135-acre site serves as a nature preserve — part of the Albany Pine Bush ecosystem — the site has more practical roots as a retention pond first constructed in the 1950s to alleviate flooding in the city’s Woodlawn neighborhood.
Stakeholders met with beaver consultants, who recommended a trapping company.
State law bars people from disturbing beaver's “dam, house or den” without written permission from the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
DEC confirmed an “extensive amount of damage at the site,” a spokesman told The Daily Gazette, “which included severe spring flooding in the preserve caused by the dam and the destruction of valuable trees caused by the beavers.”
While the city applied for the proper permit to take the beavers and remove the dam, the state agency didn’t have a role in setting the traps.
The permit was issued on March 19.
Trapping beavers is rare and largely ineffective, said Sharon T. Brown, a biologist and director of the Dolgeville-based non-profit Beavers: Wetlands & Wildlife (BWW).
“It’s often counterproductive, and will create a vacancy,” Brown said. “It’ll probably be re-settled unless they want a cycle of trapping over and over again.”
The Conibear devices used to trap beavers often ensnare rare species as collateral damage, she said, including bald eagles, which mainly eat fish and are attracted by trap victims splashing in the water.
BWW prefers sustainable solutions that result in mutually-beneficial solutions for both wildlife and human populations.
Water devices like the “Beaver Deceiver” — mesh enclosures paired with a series of pipes running under or through dams — are a better way to prevent flooding and avoid harming the creatures, Brown said.
“There’s no reason not to consider these.”
Friends said the device was cost-prohibitive.
Chen said the beavers haven’t historically served as a public draw to visit the site.
“People to go to the preserve generally go to take a walk in the quiet,” she said.