The City of St. Matthews is struggling with how to deal with beavers that have made their home in a local park.
Ian Timothy is seventeen years old. He’s been coming to Draut Park—a small park behind Mall St. Matthews—for four years, watching the family of beavers. They’ve built a dam and lodge near a culvert.
He points to the lodge. “It kind of just looks like a pile of sticks, but they’re living in the lodge.”
But Draut Park isn’t technically a park…it was meant to hold water and prevent flooding in nearby Beargrass Creek. And besides gnawing on ornamental trees, the beavers built a dam that kept the water level higher than usual. This drew the attention of City Council members; the damage was unsightly and they worried the park couldn’t effectively prevent flooding if the beavers stayed.
So, in March, the City of St. Matthews removed the dam and lodge. After several weeks, both were rebuilt, and Timothy started a campaign to get the city to leave the beavers alone.
The beavers are important to the park, he argues. They’re a keystone species, which means if they go, so will several other species that are living in the park.
“They create a habitat for all the other animals,” Timothy says. “You see the turtles, the frogs, the muskrats, all of them are living in the water because the beavers have raised it enough for them to live in. Which is great to see in this little park.”
Indeed, there are turtles and muskrats hiding under the water. Herons and red-winged blackbirds fly overhead, and you can hear the mating calls of frogs.
In a committee meeting, council members heard from the city engineer, who told them the beavers likely wouldn’t exacerbate flooding or cause further damage, if the dam is left alone. They also heard from Stephanie Boyles, who’s a wildlife scientist with the Humane Society of the United States. She deals with communities across the country, working to help them find ways beavers can coexist with flooding infrastructure, and recommended several devices the city can use to do this.
“Basically sneaking water through the dam, so the dam sort of acts as a diversion dam, keeps the beavers busy, but does not allow the water level to continue to rise, so the pipes continue to perform their function, which is moving water from their retention basin out into the creek,” Boyles says.
The city council committee decided to monitor the beavers, and over the next several months take steps to protect the park’s remaining trees and make sure the dam doesn’t get any higher.