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Landowners, Researchers Examine Beaver Habitats
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Beavers are not a problem in Mississippi. That is, they aren't a problem unless they are on your land.
Researchers have compiled data from all 82 Mississippi counties to estimate the population and acreage effected by beavers. Dr. Dale Arner, now retired head of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries at Mississippi State University, completed his third statewide survey in 1997 of beaver activities.
"Between our first two studies in 1967 and 1977, there was a 287 percent increase in the number of beaver ponds. From 1977 to last year, there was a 35 percent decrease in beaver ponds," Arner said.
A key factor in the decline is more knowledge of control options by property owners and increased efforts by government agencies.
"Landowners are killing beavers in defense of their property, not for the meat or money from the carcass," Arner said. "Beaver meat is very good -- similar to rabbit. The furs and scent glands also are marketable."
Landowner surveys indicated 88 percent of the harvested beavers are simply discarded. Most people remove beavers by hunting with guns, traps or both.
Arner estimated 8,383 beavers were harvested in 1994, about 10,210 in 1995, and almost 9,950 in 1996.
Dean Stewart, extension wildlife specialist at MSU and one of the investigators, said knowledge of population numbers is important in regulating hunting efforts. Currently, there are no restrictions on harvest numbers or hunting hours.
"We don't want to eliminate beavers from our state, but we do want to make sure they are restricted to appropriate areas where they are not damaging timber or causing unwanted flooding," Stewart said. "There are some places where beaver activity serves a purpose, such as creating waterfowl habitats."
Arner said 55 percent of the surveyed landowners claimed most of their economic losses came from flooded timber. About 24 percent of the landowners said direct timber damage accounted for most of their economic loss.
"While the statewide picture is improved, if you are one of the property owners with unwanted beaver activity, the damage is significant," Arner said.
Other investigators on Arner's team from MSU's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries were Dr. Jeanne Jones and Chris Bucciantini. Agencies supporting the survey efforts included MSU's Extension Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal Damage Control, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Ducks Unlimited.