Greensboro Searches for a Dam Answer

by Doug McClure
photo by Doug McClure
Peter Romans of Greensboro stands in freezing water on a chilly Saturday to install a barrier that safely deters beavers from entering a culvert in a way that does not disrupt their activities too much.

GREENSBORO – When Whetstone Brook Road property owners complained to the town of Greensboro about frequent flooding on the road, the town had limited options. Because it is a Class IV road, the town is not typically responsible for its maintenance. The problem was quickly traced to beavers building a dam in a culvert.

Multiple attempts to remove the dam resulted in the beavers rebuilding it overnight. An intervention by Vermont Fish and Wildlife failed as well, said Peter Romans, chair of the select board. Romans, in his capacity as a private citizen, began looking for a solution.

Killing the beavers was not an option. Resident David Kelley said in years past while working with a trapper out west he had observed ‘Conibear’ traps “so it’s why I am so adamantly against them.” In a process he described as “barbaric” and “brutal,” the traps crushed and then drowned the beavers.

Kelley said “Peter [Romans] deserves a lot of credit for taking this on himself” because “otherwise the select board would have gone forward with conibear traps.” Kelley said the traps are illegal in eight states and described their legality and use in Vermont as contravening the state’s image as good stewards of the environment.

Beavers create wetlands which, if managed, can be beneficial to the environment. Kelley said wetlands can be good for birds, fish, and people.

Romans said that the “ecosystem is kind of crucial to a lot of things.” He said the beavers were not damming the culvert out of spite but simply doing what beavers do. “These are working-class beavers,” he said, pointing to the remains of several dams that had been removed. While beavers live in colonies of two to eight around their dams, Romans estimated the Greensboro colony numbered four animals.

While working on the solution, Romans said a large number of hunters came by and offered to shoot the beavers. “They don’t understand we’re trying not to kill them,” Romans said. Even if the beavers were killed, more would likely move in, Romans said. If new beavers failed to arrive, it could signal trouble in the area’s population. Beyond the environmental concerns, Kelley said the animals’ playfulness is “fun to watch.” He said on a fishing trip to South Royalton he observed beavers putting on an entertaining show, sliding down the riverbank into the water.

Kelley said a resident in Albany had dealt with a similar issue and contacted Skip Lisle of Grafton-based “Beaver Deceivers” for help. “Skip [Lisle] got it solved,” Kelley said. Lisle works to resolve beaver-human conflicts in a non-lethal way which in this case meant protecting the culvert from the beavers. A structure was created to separate the culvert from wild animals, but it does not prevent beavers from working. The beavers can rebuild their dam, but because of the structure design, it won’t impede water flow. “The idea is that you can protect the town’s infrastructure,” Romans said.

The solution is experimental. Should the structure appear to work, it may be expanded upon. The Town of Greensboro is not paying for the work. Kelley estimated a half-dozen private citizens have so far contributed to the cost of the structure and Lisle’s consultation. Kelley said Romans has volunteered his time, which included “standing in freezing water” to install the structure. People who would like to contribute to the work can get in touch with Romans.

“I’m grateful that people are coming together and doing the right thing,” Kelley said. “I think it’s very cool what we’re doing in Greensboro, and this can be a model for other projects and towns.”