Pushed to the brink of extinction by fur trappers in the 1800s, beavers have made a remarkable comeback in the Beaver State - but that comes with its own set of problems.

As the state's human population continues to grow, interactions between people and the industrious rodents are becoming more frequent, sometimes leading to conflicts with homeowners, farmers and timber managers.

"There are negatives associated with a beaver dam," Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Deputy Administrator Larry Cooper said Wednesday, addressing a conference on forest health at Oregon State University.

"If it's built in the mouth of a culvert, that's a problem. If beavers are chewing up your seedlings, that's a problem."

At the same time, he told an audience of more than 50 people at the LaSells Stewart Center, researchers are learning that beavers can deliver some surprising ecological benefits.

"Beaver dams actually provide some slow-water habitat for wintering baby salmon," Cooper said.

In fact, said Charlie Corrarino, who manages the agency's fish conservation and recovery program, strategic relocation of beavers has the potential to give a significant, low-cost boost to the state's stream restoration efforts.

"We've put tons of sticks and stones and tens of millions of dollars into restoration projects around the state," he said. Beaver relocation "is probably something we should do more of."

Cooper and Corrarino are both members of ODFW's Beaver Workgroup, which is tasked with maximizing the furry creature's ecological benefits while minimizing its economic damage.

Under current state law, Oregon's official state animal is classified as a noxious rodent that can be killed at any time to control damage on private property. ODFW works with owners and land managers to find ways to curb the damage without harming the beasts, and one of those options can be relocation.

The Beaver Workgroup is putting the finishing touches on a set of relocation guidelines. The aim is to ensure that beavers are trapped safely and placed in suitable locations, where the animals - which live in family units - can thrive without causing conflict with humans.

"There has to be a balance," Cooper said.

Bennett Hall can be reached at 758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net.

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald

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