Beavers, who live among us in Northwest Indiana by the thousands, are popularly thought of as hardworking and adorable enough they populate children's literature and cartoons.

But not to Lake and Porter County surveyors, who are among other state and local officials who set trappers on dozens of the semiaquatic rodents annually. Lake County government calls it their beaver relocation program.

They are being relocated to that great beaver lodge in the sky.

"A state restriction that you must relocate within your county is part of the problem. There is no sanctuary we can take them to in Lake County. We don't want to relocate a live beaver to another area to cause problems. So our contractor euthanizes them," Lake County Surveyor William Emerson Jr. said.

Lake County has bagged 141 beavers from 2016 through 2018. 

"We kill them," Dan Repay, executive director of the Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission, said. He estimated the commission's trappers take out about 20 annually.

Marty Benson, director of communications for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, said the most recent statewide numbers, a 2014-2015 trapping survey, reported harvesting 2,167 beavers.

Porter County Surveyor Kevin Breitzke, who estimates Porter County takes out about about 15 beavers annually, said live relocation is problematic too. 

"The poor beaver, usually a 2- or 3-year-old, who is relocated is confused by their new surroundings and attacked by the beaver who is already established in the territory. If you see a beaver that is road kill, chances are it was a relocation," Breitzke.

Beavers are back

Geriann Albers, furbearer biologist for the DNR, said beavers were once plentiful in Indiana, but trappers prized them for their fur, which was used to make men's top hats. She said unregulated trapping and habitat destruction caused them to go extinct in the Hoosier state by 1840.

Indiana reintroduced breeding pairs from Wisconsin in 1935 into the nearby Jasper Pulaski and Kankakee wildlife areas. It was so successful the state reintroduced regulated trapping by the 1950s and beavers are now believed to live in almost all 92 counties.

A DNR website states most adult beavers weigh between 30 and 70 pounds and measure about 4 feet long. Beavers can remain submerged for up to six minutes and are rarely active during daylight hours unless disturbed by maintenance crews.

"They aren't normally seen unless we are disturbing their burrow. That is when they come out and start slapping their tail at you. Its a little disturbing when you are in the water with them," said Repay, adding he has a taxidermy mount of a 69-pound beaver in his office.

Emerson and Breitzke said they want the public to understand this isn't an all-out war on beavers, only those that obstruct the hundreds of miles of their stormwater drainage system designed to keep high water off roads, farm fields and out of residential areas.

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"It is a necessary evil," said Dan Gossman, Lake County's senior drainage administrator.

Lake County work crews in 2017 spent 45 hours dismantling 10 beaver dams at a public cost of $60,500. The county has been paying $200 for the capture of each beaver since 2016.

Officials said beavers instinctively build dams across flowing waterways since the deeper, still water is protection against predators and makes it easier for them to float food and building material.

"Beavers can provide a lot of habitat benefits. A lot of species benefit from beaver ponds. It creates wetland habitat for fish and wading birds. Beaver dams also can act as wildlife highways  across flowing water," Albers said.

"They can live in urban areas. Their dams back up water and floods homes and cause a lot of still water that provides habitat for mosquitoes," Emerson said. 

He said this is especially true in suburban Lake County on the aptly named Beaver Dam Ditch, which sprawls across St. John, Crown Point and north of Winfield.

Gossman said they once received a complaint from a resident on the Hart Ditch in Dyer that beavers had felled trees in their backyard and demanded the county restore their landscaping.

Little Calumet River dams

"The main channel of the Little Calumet doesn't have many issues, but dams affect small tributaries that flow into it and in overflow areas. They block those up very quickly," Repay said. 

"One of the bigger ones is near 35th Avenue in Gary, where there is a three-stage dam we will be breaking up this year. They built the first one, and when the water rose, they added a second and third on top to protect their lodge."

They said beavers are trapped by people who must have so-called nuisance permits from the state that permit the capture of beavers year-round, but forbid sale of beavers for their pelts or any other commercial use.

Emerson said concerns about the humane treatment of beavers prompted his office several years ago to try alternative methods of preventing or bypassing beaver dams in county ditches and culverts.

Emerson said they also have tried so-called beaver deceivers, tubes that permit water to flow around the dam.

"But in big rain events, they don't keep up with the high water.

"We have tried having a crew out there full time removing dams multiple times, thinking they would leave, but they come right back and can rebuild in a day," Emerson said.

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Lake County Reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.