Buck Mountain beavers vs. trout: It's no laughing matter

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   Maybe you've had the opportunity to catch the cartoon "Angry Beavers" with your children. It's always good for a laugh. But true-to-life beavers damming up the headwaters of Laurel Creek on Buck Mountain is no laughing matter.
   While the beavers were doing what comes naturally -- building dams -- they inadvertently caused water to rise on Phil Arnett Lane, blocking the roadway for the resident who lives at the end of the lane and flooding a nearby tree farm.
   As a result, a U.S. Department of Agriculture representative has been called in to survey the situation and give guidance to local agencies on how they may deal with the problem.
   Gary McWherter of Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency said the USDA representative probably will be in the Roan Mountain area the first of the week. "We're probably going to have to take the dams out to get the water off of the road, that's a given.
   "As far as the beavers, we may trap them, or we may have to take care of them -- a lethal method -- depends on how effective the trapping is," he said. However, "No decision has been made as far as doing that yet."
   Another problem, according to McWherter, is the possible presence of trout in the stream. "If there are brook trout in there and they do have to do any blasting, then they're probably going to move those trout out of there while they're blasting and then put them right back in after. You just shock them and put them in a bucket, blast, and then put them back in there."
   There is no trapping season on beavers in this area, he said. While the beavers are a protected species, according to state law, "any animal other than big game that's doing damage, the landowner can eradicate them," McWherter said. "We usually, in these cases, give a permit to go ahead and take them out if it's necessary."
   If it's a federally endangered or threatened species, the feds have to get involved, McWherter said. "Say like a woodpecker pecking on the side of a cedar home -- that requires federal intervention because it's a federal species."
   TWRA often contracts with professional trappers to remove the beavers, especially in West Tennessee, according to McWherter.
   Rudy Oaks, a long-time resident of Buck Mountain, said he believes the beavers were introduced to the area when he was about 3 or 4 years old. The beavers previously were located farther downstream, but one of the government agencies came in several years ago and removed their dams, he said. He thinks this was done because of the trout.
   McWherter said the dam was taken out due to concerns about changes in water temperature, which can potentially threaten the fish. Laurel Creek is a trout stream, he said.
   Oaks is concerned about wildlife agents coming in and blowing up the dam or using heavy equipment to remove it.
   "Here's what makes me mad about these beavers: They're up this creek because either the forest service or the Fish and Game Commission tore the dam down or blowed it up. They had a beautiful dam and wasn't bothering nobody that I knowed of," he said. "They were far enough down the creek till they weren't damaging no fruit trees, they weren't damaging the man's Christmas trees or nothing else.
   "But now they've pushed them up there. If you destroy my home and push me on, I've got to go somewhere. And that beaver, he's the same way, because he's got to have those trees."
   Oaks said he had heard about the beaver population in Laurel Fork Creek since he was a child in elementary school. "One day we took a field trip and went off down through there. I was just a young boy -- I wasn't 7 years old. We got loose from the teachers" and went to look for the dams. "That's all the young people talked about: 'Let's go to the beaver dams.' I didn't know what a beaver dam was then."
   Oaks said he also had heard about the previous beaver dam before it was removed. "My brother, Tommy, told me. He said, 'Let's ride down there and look at these beavers.'
   "I said, 'They don't come out' in daytime. They're night workers.'
   "He said, 'Yes, they do. You can go down there and sit and in a little while they'll come up on that pond they've got.'
   "Sure enough, we rode the 4-wheelers down to Harrison Hollow Road and went off down there to the dam and in a little while, I saw five or six. They had stumps in the middle of that pond. Some of them would sit on that pond and mess with their paws or swim over to the bank.
   "You could walk down to the dam and you could see where maybe that water was coming out too much to suit them, and they'd twig it over and pack that mud back through there."
   Oaks said the next thing he knew, the dam was gone. "Somebody told me they blowed it. That's the reason the beavers are up at Phil Arnett's now. I've never heard of them damaging anything, and I'm an outdoorsman.
   "Why don't you ask this Fish and Game Commission and this Forest Service where these beavers were at to start with to get up in the Phil Arnett place? I'm interested in hearing it. Ask them who blowed that dam up," he said.
   Oaks said the trout have enough sense to take care of themselves. Like the salmon, he said, "When these fish spawn they'll jump a falls to get back to where they came from. I'm sure if them trout want out of that beaver dam they'll come out of it." And if the water heats up, he said, the fish seek out areas where it's cooler.
   While beaver engineering is extraordinary, it's not foolproof, according to Oaks.
   "That water is going to go even if you build a hydro dam. You can't stop water forever and neither can them beavers. You're not going to stop that creek. The water's going to go through somewhere. That's nature.
   "Nature provides us a way to live; it provides them beavers a way to live. The Lord put them beavers here, and I feel like we're taking that away from them," he said.