Town of Stowe competing with beavers over rec fields

Published: May. 19, 2023 at 6:05 PM EDT
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STOWE, Vt. (WCAX) - Town officials in Stowe are trying to figure out a way to keep their recreational fields dry as beavers cause the surrounding wetlands to expand.

People in Stowe say the wetlands surrounding Memorial Park are getting closer and closer to the fields and courts.

“Growing up here. It’s always been wet in that area. It has gotten worse over the years but it’s something we’ve always kind of dealt with,” said Andrew Kneale, a local resident.

The growing wetlands pose a threat to the town’s recreational spaces as they’ve continued to expand. Two of the baseball fields have had to be re-classified as wetlands.

“The casual observer would say, well, it just looks like grass to me, but they get squishier certain times of the year. The interesting thing about wetlands -- they can not only affect the surface conditions but the subsurface conditions. They saturate the surrounding soils and area,” said Stowe Town Manager Charles Safford.

The town commissioned a study of the area that showed that beaver activity had caused the wetlands to broaden, growing to more than 25 acres. The findings create a challenge for the town, which wanted to replace buildings and add more courts to the park, but now will have to think twice as wetlands are protected habitats under state law.

“We’re trying to live with the beavers. Maybe we’re gonna have to think about other options and sites. Land is at a premium already and then when you put wetlands on top of that, we’ve got to figure out what, if anything, we can practically do at this site,” Safford said.

He says they’ve been trying to clear away the downed trees and dams as fast as the beavers can build them but have not found much success. They’ve partnered with environmental advocacy groups to find new ways to approach the issue, like installing “beaver deceivers” and water control devices.

“Protect our Wildlife worked with the town of Stowe on a beaver plan. And so the town will not kill beavers unless they’ve tried all other non-lethal options first. Doing everything we can to ensure that the beaver families can stay here, while at the same time protecting, you know, vital infrastructure and the recreational fields,” said Protect our Wildlife’s Brenna Galdenzi. She says it’s important that the beavers stay in the area and hopes the town will not have to resort to trapping, due to the negative effects removing beavers could have on the environment. “Vermont is not immune to drought, right? We’ve had record-low rainfall for the past couple of years. And one thing that beavers do is they keep water on the land, and so that’s just one of many ecological benefits that they provide.”

Safford says they will continue to study the wetlands over the summer and take possible ecological effects into account as they chart a path forward. “Let’s hope we’re able to live in harmony and share the land. The beavers have theirs and we have ours and we can coexist together, but time will tell,” he said.