Thomas & Palmer Brook Reserve, Great Barrington
In summer 2023, BNRC installed a Beaver Deceiver, to regulate water levels and protect the accessible trail. The beavers were unharmed and continue to raise their family just a little farther down the stream.
Often called “ecosystem engineers,” beavers create wetlands that provide rich and valuable habitat for numerous plants, invertebrates, and wildlife. Like every ecosystem, wetlands created by beavers are dynamic; water levels fluctuate, food resources change. These changes can cause the landscape to look barren or messy, but if you pay close attention to these transitions, you may notice there is abundant wildlife and new growth.
Beavers populated the Berkshires and beyond for thousands of years, until they were wiped out in a matter of decades by the fur trade.
A small population remained in Canada, and in the early 1910s, wildlife biologists brought beavers back to New York, and then Massachusetts. Since then they have made a spectacular comeback, and once again are shaping our environment for the benefit of the ecosystem.
Today, beavers are common and abundant throughout most of Massachusetts, including the Berkshires. Quite a few BNRC reserves play host to families of beavers, including Thomas & Palmer Brook in Great Barrington, Steepletop in New Marlborough, and Bob’s Way in Monterey.
BNRC values the landscape diversity contribution of beavers to the conservation reserves the organization cares for and beyond. However, sometimes the presence of beaver dams in areas they share with humans can raise water levels too far, creating flooding that can cause damage. That was happening here, as the flooding at the site of the dam was threatening to damage the accessible trail on the Meadow Loop. This trail is specifically designed for barrier-free access for wheelchairs, strollers, and mobility aids. Flooding would make it impossible for residents and visitors who need accessible trails to use them.
Fortunately, there are ways to address this without harming the beavers or changing the ecosystem that depends on their presence.
One such method is called a Beaver Deceiver. In summer 2023, BNRC hired experts to install a beaver deceiver in the brook adjacent to the Meadow Loop accessible trail. A beaver deceiver works to regulate the water level, lowering the water level enough to end the problem of beaver-related flooding while leaving the dam and pond in place.
BNRC staff monitored the beaver activity at Thomas & Palmer Brook closely to understand the changes and the impact on the existing infrastructure. The water level had begun to consistently flood over the accessible trail, which limited access. The beaver deceiver is a long-term management solution that will minimize the threat to the accessible trail and allow the beavers to continue thriving.
From the bridge, take a look at the brook—you may see them busy at their work, while our human visitors can enjoy the accessible trail by wheelchair or other means of locomotion. BNRC is always committed to protecting wildlife and nature and ensuring that humans can live and thrive alongside.
Diagram: Beaver Deceiver Life Science Article for Students | Scholastic Science Spin 3-6 Magazine