City Cast

Wisconsin’s Complicated Relationship With Beavers

Hayley Sperling
Hayley Sperling
Posted on November 2
Beaver Eating Bark off a Branch

Did you know Beavers’ teeth are as strong as metal and never stop growing? (Christina Radcliffe / Getty Images)

This segment was written in-part by City Cast Denver editor Peyton Garcia.

Wisconsin has long had mixed feelings about beavers. The rodents were once prized for their pelts but these days, government officials have worked to remove them from the state by the thousands.

Beavers typically prefer slow-moving streams surrounded by trees to build their homes. In Madison, you’ll see the furry critters along the lakeshores, in the arboretum, and throughout Madison parks. Beavers do wonders for creating and maintaining biodiversity. Their ponds slow flooding during rainy seasons and create habitats for other species from birds to fish.

But Wisconsin has a complicated relationship with America’s largest rodent. There’s even a state law on the books that makes it legal to go onto a neighbor’s property to destroy a beaver dam.

“We’re the only state that has a budget to destroy beavers; we’ve spent $15 million in the last 20 years to kill beavers,’’ said Bob Boucher, who claimed in an Isthmus article the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is pursuing “a policy of beaver holocaust.”

The argument to remove beavers stems from damage the dam-making process can inflict on trees and other wildlife. But in the quest to remove beavers, the state has also (accidentally) killed more than 1,000 river otters too.

Why Beavers Matter

Here are some of the ecological benefits that beavers have on their surrounding habitats:

  • Their dams recharge groundwater
  • They help maintain a healthy stream flow
  • They build up watershed biodiversity
  • They reduce wildfire risk

Beaver Fun Facts

  • Beavers’ teeth are as strong as metal and never stop growing (they can grow up to 4 feet per year!). A thick coating of iron makes their teeth appear orange.
  • Contrary to popular belief, beavers don’t use their tails to pat down mud. Rather, beavers use their long, flat tails as rudders while swimming in the water, a prop for balancing when carrying large loads of sticks, and to slap the water in communication with other beavers.
  • Beavers are monogamous. They live and work in family colonies of 2-12 members.
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