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Monkton finds a humane beaver solution: Deception

Monkton Pond

“I called up Fish & Wildlife to tell them their device wasn’t working and they said, ‘Well, we’ve done it a couple of times now and we’re not going to do it anymore. You’re on your own.’”
— Lee Kauppila

“Beavers do very little deductive reasoning … Beavers are not capable of stepping back and taking a look at the big picture.”
— Skip Lisle

MONKTON — On a warm sunny Friday afternoon last month, Theresa Payea, dressed in waders, stood atop a well-established beaver dam in Monkton Pond (also known as Cedar Lake).
Payea was there, along with a few other members of the newly re-established Cedar Lake Association, to help bring a decades-long battle with beavers to a peaceful, humane conclusion.
“I’ve lived here 28 years, but I’ve never seen the dam so close up,” she said. “You don’t realize how much trouble beavers are capable of.”
Payea and her neighbors got an up-close and personal view of that trouble last fall, after the beavers in Monkton Pond had outwitted an old baffle cage installed by the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife to maintain water levels. Beavers clogged up the hole and the water began to rise.
“Our first bad flood, over the road, was last October,” she said. “It flooded some people’s basements.”
Payea’s yard had also been under water.
“This used to be meadows here,” she said, indicating the westernmost end of the 120-acre pond, which empties into Lewis Creek. She pointed to a couple of cracked gray posts sticking up out of the water. “Those used to be fence posts.”
Down in the water, a few yards away, beaver expert Skip Lisle of Grafton was busy assembling a custom-made system that he invented to keep the water flowing, regardless of damming activity.
He calls it the “Beaver Deceiver.”
BREACHING THE DAM
When winter gave way to spring this year and Lee Kauppila discovered that his dock was under water, he paddled out to the dam to see what the problem was.
“The beavers had taken out the previous device,” he said. “They had solved it. So I called up Fish & Wildlife to tell them their device wasn’t working and they said, ‘Well, we’ve done it a couple of times now and we’re not going to do it anymore. You’re on your own.’”
Fish & Wildlife officials provided a list of “beaver consultants” and the re-emerging Cedar Lake Association (CLA) hired Lisle to come out in May and deceive the beavers.
But before that could happen, the dam had to be breached.
Kauppila explained the process at Monkton’s town meeting last March (and was interrupted several times by appreciative laughter).
“One fun thing that’s going to happen is that a week to 10 days before the Beaver Deceiver shows up, it’s going to be my job to breach the dam. (Lisle told me to) ‘put waders on, go out there, and with a cultivator’ — a tine cultivator, he said — ‘start making a U-shaped hole in the dam, so the water rushes out. (Lisle) said, ‘Do it in the morning, because the beavers don’t like to come out during the day. So the water will keep rushing all day. When it gets dark, the beavers will come out and attempt to patch it, but they won’t be able to keep up with you … because you will go out the next day, and every day after that (and undo the patches).’”
This Beaver Deceiver prep ended up getting delayed a couple of months because of the coronavirus, but by the middle of June, Kauppila was ready to proceed.
He got some much-needed help from George Parker’s Boy Scout troop, which included boys and girls. The troop made two major breaches in the dam, and two smaller ones, and the water level dropped by 5 inches the first night.
For 10 days afterward, Kauppila and his wife, Melody, went out every morning to undo the beavers’ repair jobs, which brought the water level down another 10 inches or so.
A drought this summer reduced the water level another 6 or 8 inches, and the CLA was ready for the final project.
BEAVER DECEIVER
Over the past 25 years Skip Lisle has installed more than a thousand Beaver Deceivers all over the country, and around the world.
“Beavers do very little deductive reasoning,” Lisle told the Independent in a phone interview. “That’s the starting point. Most people assume animals think like people, but beavers are not capable of stepping back and taking a look at the big picture.”
In fact, they’re programmed to respond to the sound, feel and look of leaks in dams. Lisle is able to deceive them because they typically will look for leaks very close to the dam itself.
A robust Beaver Deceiver system requires two things, Lisle said: a large, long pipe and a sophisticated filter.
At Monkton Pond Lisle installed 80 feet of culvert pipe through the breach in the dam. At the farthest point away from the dam, in a spot of deep water, he attached the pipe end to a 5-by-12-foot Square Fence Filter (also his invention), which will keep water in and beavers out. The filter’s quarter-inch-gauge steel is coated with epoxy to keep it from dissolving in the acidic water.
Lisle attached a plywood roof to the filter so beavers can’t dump things inside it from the top. The roof also helps prevent whirlpools, whose “sucking sounds” would draw the attention of the beavers.
“The system needs to be big and sophisticated to not give off any clues to the beavers that there is a leak,” he said.
Lisle’s system allows the beavers to remain in their habitat without flooding nearby properties.
“Having beavers in the system has tremendous ecological, hydrological and aesthetic value,” he said.
Beaver Deceiver installations typically cost anywhere from $2,500 to $4,000.
“The systems tend to pay for themselves almost immediately,” Lisle said. “At Cedar Lake I was protecting millions of dollars in property value for a few thousand dollars, which was a tremendous investment. Not to mention the fact that you don’t have to remove the most important keystone species from the ecosystem ever again.”
Lisle finished the Monkton Pond project late that Friday night and expects that with some care it will last for decades.
PROTECTING WILDLIFE
“(Installing a Beaver Deceiver) is harder than setting traps, but it’s more humane,” said CLA member Bev Soychak.
When the CLA decided to hire Lisle, Soychak reached out to the advocacy group Protect Our Wildlife (POW), which is based in Stowe.
POW’s Management Strategy for Beavers recommends systems like Lisle’s Beaver Deceivers as being the most humane and sustainable solution to various human-beaver problems, and the organization will often help fund such projects.
After discussing the Monkton Pond plan with Soychak, POW donated $2,000 to offset the cost.
“Bev (Soychak) and Theresa (Payea)’s hearts are in the right place, and I couldn’t be happier to fund this project,” said POW President Brenna Galdenzi in a phone interview.
Last year POW received a grant from Lush Cosmetics, a vegetarian cosmetics company, to help with the organization’s focus on solving wildlife conflicts in a humane fashion, Galdenzi explained. The bulk of those funds have been working to protect beavers.
“We’re now experiencing the very real effects of climate change, and beavers do a wonderful job of mitigating climate change, so it’s money well spent.”
POW’s beaver management plan can be found online at tinyurl.com/ybbwf7c8.
The Cedar Lake Association maintains a page on Monkton’s town website, tinyurl.com/MonktonCedarLake. And for more information about Skip Lisle and the Beaver Deceiver, visit beaverdeceivers.com.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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