Beaver Lady Sherri Tippie explains how to give a dam, save a river

Twenty-five years ago, hairdresser Sherri Tippie persuaded Aurora officials to let her trap beaver that were gnawing trees on a golf course and relocate rather than kill them.

Since that first trapping session, ecologists and water authorities have increasingly come to see beaver as something other than annoying rodents who mess up urban streams and jam culverts with their infernal dams. And Tippie, now known internationally as the "Dian Fossey of Beavers," has had a lot to do with the change of attitude.

Hunted close to extinction in the nineteenth century for their fur, beavers are actually a keystone species. Aside from being dam-smart, wily engineers, they help to improve riverways and riparian ecosystems by creating ponds and wetlands, trapping sediment, and providing firebreaks and obstacles to downstream flooding. Many of the complaints about them in urban settings boil down to aesthetic issues, such as the average suburbanite's resentment of gnawed-up willows on the edge of golf courses.

Tippie's volunteer group, Wildlife 2000, has live-trapped and relocated more than a thousand beavers since the mid-1980s, with a strong emphasis on keeping beaver families intact. But Tippie's greatest triumphs have involved finding solutions that allow the beavers to stay where they are -- by installing sneaky flow devices, for example, that lower the water level without driving the beaver away. In fact, she's currently working with Denver Parks and Recreation on such a project to preserve a magnificent beaver dam in the Bear Valley neighborhood.

A glossy sixty-page booklet by Tippie, Working With Beaver for Better Habitat Naturally!, explains how any average joe (or hair stylist) can step up and fix a community beaver problem with a minimal investment in equipment -- or, if there's no alternative to relocation, how to do it humanely and safely and find the right new home for a beaver clan.

"The amazing thing is, when people find out even a little bit about beaver, when they understand just a little bit, they often decide to coexist with them," Tippie writes. "I believe it's my job to enlighten those people. Besides, it's fun!"

The booklet is a colorful, remarkable blend of how-to advice and wonderful bits of beaver lore and yarns about interactions with the furry and funky critters. To order a copy of the publication for ten bucks, or to receive more information, e-mail [email protected] or write to Tippie at Wildlife 2000, 4905 W. Lakeridge Road, Denver 80219.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Wild horse 'truce' stampeded by latest roundup."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast