Why We're Better for Beavers (and Why Does the Federal Government Kill 27,000 a Year?)

Leon M. Lederman Science Education Center, Fermilab Flora and Fauna Virtual Exhibit

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a fascinating story about beavers and the realization by some ranchers that they provide many economic, as well as ecological, benefits. 

Mr. Woolery's ranch on Beaver Creek outside Kinnear, Wyo., has been beaver-free for decades, but he could sure use their help now. A small beaver colony, he says, would engineer dams that raise the water table under his pastures, opening up drinking holes for his cattle.

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Justin Burnett, a rancher in Richards, Texas, desperately wants beavers.

He blames low creek levels for a "red water" virus that is killing his Angus herd.

"Since we are in an extreme drought and there are no beavers to keep the water level sufficient, the water is stagnant and becoming deadly…The creek is constantly getting shallower. I just need beavers back at my ranch."

This begs an obvious question: why does the Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services’ program spend taxpayers money to kill over 27,000 beavers every year? 

No doubt, some beavers are indeed a nuisance and may have to be removed, even killed, particularly when they threaten local infrastructure such as roads. Others, however, are killed purely for the benefit of private agricultural interests. Now, I have no doubt that trapping and relocating a beaver is more expensive than just killing it. As a taxpayer, I would be happy to pay to keep some beavers alive by relocating them to places where they can do some good (of the 27,000 beavers it killed in 2010, Wildlife Services relocated about 200). I would also be happy to subsidize the use of “flow devices,” which can control flooding without the need to kill beavers.

But what I don’t want to do is to be asked to foot the bill to kill an ecologically valuable animal purely for the benefit of private landowners.  This is exactly the kind of environmentally harmful subsidy that the government should eliminate.

About the Authors

Andrew Wetzler

Deputy Chief Program Officer

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