Episode 4: Beaver Solutions: Mike Callahan


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Podcast Transcript:

Amrita Acharya 0:00
Welcome to climate change at home, a podcast series produced by the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Greenfield Recorder and Athol Daily News. I am your host, Amrita Acharya. And on this podcast we will look at the impacts of climate change and those active in the fight against it in the Pioneer Valley. Climate change at home is sponsored by Whelan insurance, providing protection to Pioneer Valley families and businesses since 1961. Today I am speaking with Mike Callahan, the founder of Beaver Solutions, an internationally recognized world leader ineffective beaver management, and human beaver conflict resolution. Mike is also the president of the Beaver Institute, a nonprofit organization promoting beaver wetland restoration and increasing public appreciation of the beavers critical role in creating climate resilient wetland ecosystems. I originally met Mike back in January of this year for a class I was taking on beaver habitats. Based in Southampton, Mike has been able to protect both human and beaver interests, but also advocating for beavers importance in mitigating climate change.

Mike Callahan 1:14
My name is Mike Callahan. They live in Southampton, grew up in Holyoke. And for the past 24 years, I've been dealing with beavers initially, my wife and I started a volunteer group to help try to resolve conflicts with beavers, in 1998. And in 2000, I started a business beaver solutions where we started doing I started doing it professionally. And now I put in over 1900 of these devices. And what they do is they resolve flooding problems so that the beavers don't have to be trapped and killed and they can stay in place. But the water levels keep is kept at a safe level for people.

Amrita Acharya 2:00
And so what initially started your interest in getting involved with these beaver problems?

Mike Callahan 2:09
Well, there was a need for back in 1996, trapping was restricted, not outlawed, but restricted. And there was a need for finding a way to balance having beavers on the landscape and protecting infrastructure and homes and things. And so my wife and I learned some techniques that were kind of in their infancy back then, at a workshop and decided to try it. And actually what really triggered it was a city Northampton was looking for volunteers to help with a beaver problem. And we volunteered but then it got disbanded before we ever started. So we started everyone volunteer group.

Amrita Acharya 2:54
Wow. Can you just give us a little bit of background on what beavers do? And why there's conflict to begin with?

Mike Callahan 3:01
Sure. Yeah. Beavers are second only to us as far as changing the environment to suit their own needs. And what their needs are. They're well adapted to the water, their aquatic mammals, they're vegetarian, and they cut down trees. And they build dams to create ponds, because they've been around millions of years. So they use these ponds for protection from predators like saber toothed tigers, and wolves and whatnot. And so they still do that. And they, you know, and during all those 1000s of years, the landscape changes they made by turning small streams into big pond at areas where their dams started developing immense ecological value, because tons of other species adapted to these changes, and then became reliant on these wetland changes. So that's why be what hooked me was when I found out that if we keep beavers around, we're not just keeping that one animal which is good in and of itself. But they're supporting tons of other species, plants, animals, insects, and that's why they're called a keystone species by biologists because all these other species rely on them so they're critical for biodiversity.

Amrita Acharya 4:23
Mike and I met up at the Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area in Northampton. For beaver solutions as implemented devices to regulate the water level at three existing beaver dams. There, I was able to appreciate the importance of wetland habitats and witnessed a symbiosis between humans and beavers.

Amrita Acharya 4:43
This is beautiful.

Mike Callahan 4:45
Yeah, this was all wooded and before the beavers flooded it out. And I'm glad you think it's beautiful. Is to me too, but a lot of people see the dead trees and think it's so destructive. But ecologically is very valuable. Now there are birds that will nest in these trees. And it just once one scenario gets flooded like this and that lets the sun in, you get a whole ecosystem, the food chain starting.

Amrita Acharya 5:16
It's such an interesting distinction. I mean, we've only walked about 100 feet. And yet you have that wooded area. And now it's all the cat tails. And you see the water and all these dead trees. It's so cool. Wow, this is beautiful.

Mike Callahan 5:31
Yeah, nature. And you know, biodiversity loves, changes in habitats and the, at the edges. They're really animals who can live in both places and really thrive. So yeah, these beaver ponds are just magnets for all kinds of species.

Amrita Acharya 5:52
So for a beaver novice, yeah. And you're walking, and you see, you're trying to find beavers, what are sort of the telltale signs in the landscape to look for?

Mike Callahan 6:03
The easiest one is if you when you're driving down the road, and you see dead trees. Trees don't grow in water. And but when beavers flood them, if they're flooded long enough, they'll die. So like when I had young nephews and nieces, I told them look for dead trees, you know, groups of them along the road, and it's surprising how often you'll see it. You know, because beavers had been gone from the state for almost 200 years until the 1930s. And so a lot of places that had been beaver ponds for 1000s and 1000s, of years, without beavers had grown in. And so when beavers moved back into an area, those trees, which historically wouldn't have been there would have been wetland. They die. And, you know, it's great for Herons, and woodpeckers, and swallows and other birds. But a lot of people see it and go, Oh, that's bad. But it really is ecological. Good.

Amrita Acharya 7:06
So you're saying all these great things about beavers? So why do we as humans collectively, dislike them? Why do we want to get rid of them,

Mike Callahan 7:15
if they're flooding out your house, you're not gonna like, right? So most people like beavers, unless they're being negatively impacted, and that's understandable. And but likewise, most people I run into are happy to live with them, provided their homes or roads are protected. So that's what we do try to find that balance. So that, you know, traditionally, when beavers and humans had a conflict, the beavers would lose, they would get killed. But now, three quarters of the time, we can do something that will keep the beavers there, but prevent damage.

Amrita Acharya 7:52
And can you tell us a bit about the functionality of this,

Mike Callahan 7:57
it's beavers are very good at building dams, right. And they're also very good at detecting leaks in their dams and plugging them up. So they are also equally adept at plugging up pipes, you know, they, if they feel water escaping their pond through a leak in the dam or through a pipe, they're gonna plug it up because they want to maintain their pond. So that's why the most common problem we see are beavers plugging up pipes, under roads, road culverts, because with a little bit of work by plugging that pipe, the beer has turned the whole road into a dam. So we do a lot of work for local and state highway departments. But we also work for you know, homeowners, businesses, utilities, anyone with property that has beavers on it that might be causing a problem?

Amrita Acharya 8:49
And what is the process of diagnosing? Well,

Mike Callahan 8:51
we'll get a call, you know, like I said, it could be from any one highway department, a homeowner business, whatnot. And they'll say, you know, we think we have a buff an issue, you know, with flooding. And so talk to him. And if it sounds like it is from beavers, then I'll ask him some questions about, you know, what, have they seen the dam have, you know, how high is the water? How long has it been a problem when what's been done in the past? And then the next step is I'll go out and take a look at it, and assess whether or not this is a spot where we can use one of these devices, you know, 25% of the time, we humans have built infrastructure or homes in these floodplains where there just can't be any ponding. And so that's when I can't find that balance and the beavers have to be trapped. But three quarters of the time, we can find a balance, you know, and so that's what I hoped for, you know, because that's better for everybody. In fact, we did a study of 20 years of beaver management in a town of Bill Recca at 50. five sites, and 43 of them were these devices and 12 of them were sites where the devices wouldn't work. And we trapped. And it showed that the taxpayers saved $180 per site. And the water control devices sites versus the trapping sites, because they're long term answers, you put in these devices, and they need maybe an hour of maintenance a year, but they'll last for 10 or more years. Whereas when we trap or anyone traps the habitat still there, you get rid of the beavers, nature abhors a vacuum, new beavers move in. And you're right back where you started.

Amrita Acharya 10:39
So it sounds like it's a cycle unless you're cooperating. Right? You first, you mentioned the word trapping, can you give us a little bit of background on what that is and why people do it?

Mike Callahan 10:50
Well, trapping is something that has been done for hundreds of years, right? And that's why beavers almost went extinct. Because wet. Fur Trappers were the first Europeans that went and explored the continent. And what they did was back then beaver furs were very valuable. So they wiped out every beaver they could find. And so they almost went extinct, they've actually making a good comeback, but a lot of, and here in Massachusetts, they're well established, but out west, they actually want more beavers, because the ponds that beavers build are hugely important for climate change. But that's a whole nother story. But as far as the trapping goes, so that's been known forever. And that was always the knee jerk reaction when a problem occurred. And so now we have options with non lethal options. So, you know, that's gratifying because I love doing things that help people out, but also are good for the environment. So, so trapping, there's a trapping season. In Massachusetts, every state has its own regulations. You know, back when the original trappers came, there were no regulations, so they're able to wipe them out. So trapping season, Massachusetts starts November 1 and goes through April 15. And if you're trained by the state, you can trap beavers.

Amrita Acharya 12:20
So you mentioned a bit about the wetlands impact on climate change and beavers impact on climate change. Can you tell me a bit a bit more about why we should care about

Mike Callahan 12:32
we just had. I didn't mention this. Five years ago, I started a nonprofit that's called the beaver Institute. And that's a national nonprofit, to promote understanding and better management of beavers. And we had an international conference three day conference back in June. And the theme of it was beavers build climate resilience. And there's a lot of ways they do that. You know, by storing water, in areas out west where they're starved for water with less snow melt and less rain, they need as much water as they can. There's a lot of interest in having more beavers. Out here in Massachusetts, in the northeast, we have all our habitat set for southeastern mast is pretty much philippic full of beavers. So we don't have a shortage of and we don't have a typically except for the summer a shortage of water either. We tend to have an issue with high floods from big storms. What's cool is that beavers help with both extremes. Their dams slow down, big storm runoff and whole backside of it reducing downstream flooding from big events. Whereas out west that stores water both on the surface and like three times as much in the ground. So that water that would have just run down the stream and be gone in the spring is held and and is released slower and helps with drought and keep streams flowing later in the season. So water storage and flood. Decrease decreasing flooding is one way that with climate change that beavers help. And there was a study in Milwaukee showing that if they had more beavers in the small streams upstream in Milwaukee, they would be saving millions of dollars a year in flood flood control. So so that's one but with climate change, it's also hotter, right. And there's areas out west that are devastated with wildfires. These beaver ponds you know, wet areas don't burn, and they act as speedbumps and can help to not only slow down or maybe decrease what gets burn, but they also serve as a waste. This is for the species to be after the burn to be able to re spread out And revegetate and re inhabit the environment and the beaver dams after a wildfire. There's a lot of when it rains, a lot of toxic ash and stuff that gets washed into the streams. And these beaver dams hold on to that, and keep them keep that Ash upstream and protects the rivers and streams downstream. So there's so wildfires is another climate resilient aspect of beavers, biodiversity we already talked about. There's more, we're losing more and more species. But these wetlands are havens for species. And so Oh, salmon, you know, endangered species. It's been shown with with research from NOAA and others that if we had more beavers, there'd be more nursery areas for salmon. And we, I was told by the head of Noah's salmon recovery in the Pacific Northwest that the coho salmon could be delisted if they just had more beavers. So so there's a, you know, so many ways that beavers help us. And, you know, I'm not even talking about how they restore streams and stuff that we spend hundreds of millions of dollars on, and they, they do all this stuff for free. So all we need to do is give them a chance and not keep wiping, you know, killing them, and living with them when we can. And we get all these benefits, and it's just psychologically for our society. I think it's just a better way to approach life, you know, live and let live and try to find balance where you can

Amrita Acharya 16:47
I read somewhere online that beavers are able to store carbon outside of their lodges. Is that true?

Mike Callahan 16:55
not in their lodges. That's what they do is what when they create these wetlands, you know, trees die, right and, and vegetation grows in the aquatic vegetation that settles and what happens is carbon is stored in the muck and and so like, so it stores carbon that way veget dead vegetation is stored at the bottom of the wetland. So yeah, beaver wetlands store carbon two.

Amrita Acharya 17:27
That's great. Yeah. So it sounds to me like there's quite a few reasons why we need to reintroduce, and maintain good relationships with beavers. My question is, what can we do, though? If they're still, perhaps the public perception that beavers are always pests?

Mike Callahan 17:46
Well, I think what you're doing with this interview, and just what it says, it's a matter of education, you know, once people know, what about this, that, you know, who can sit who who's against it? Right? So, but if you don't know, you know, and often, you know, people don't know anything, if all they know is that, oh, there's a problem with an animal kill it, you know, so, it's, you know, more and more people are learning and that's encouraging, and we just need to keep that process. So thank you for doing the podcast and being a part of that.

Amrita Acharya 18:24
If you're interested in learning more, you can visit Beaver solutions.com or Beaver institute.org. There are many volunteer opportunities with the beaver Institute, where you can get involved with your local beaver habitats. On this season of climate change at home. I am speaking to individuals from Youth Climate action now and Community Action Pioneer Valley among many others. Lastly, I'd like to thank our sponsor Whelan insurance, a local business operated exclusively by solar power. Well, insurance has seven evey charging stations at its King Street office in Northampton, free for public use. Until next time, I am Amrita Acharya and I thank you so much for tuning in.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai