Beavers, once virtually extinct in most areas of Tennessee, have made an amazing comeback in recent years -- too amazing, in some areas.
The robust rodents have become so densely populated that they have become a destructive nuisance, gnawing down trees, blocking streams and causing flooding in low-lying areas.
On some tributaries of the Cumberland River, beaver dams have caused sloughs to back up and flood prime farmland.
In Williamson County, beavers blocked a creek that runs through the Carnton Plantation of Civil War fame, flooding some historical out-buildings.
On the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area, beavers dammed numerous steams, turning habitat-rich hollows and bottoms into ponds and swamps.
In the Radnor Lake State Park and wildlife sanctuary, beavers are cutting down shoreline trees at an alarming rate.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is aware of the beaver problem and has taken steps to address it. Hunting beavers is allowed year 'round, with no bag limit.
There is likewise no season nor limit on trapping beavers, although certain restrictions apply -- such as what type of traps can be set in specific locations to avoid accidentally catching domestic animals.
Lebanon trapper Clarence Dies has witnessed first-hand the explosion of the beaver population. During last winter's trapping season he caught 24 beavers in a five-mile stretch on the Cumberland. The year before he trapped 19. Not too many years earlier, beavers sighting in the area were rare.
Beaver pelts last year brought $18-$22, but the process of skinning, fleshing and stretching a hide is long and tedious. And trapping beavers for their pelts has its limitations: the fur is prime only during the winter months and worthless the rest of the year.
Clarence frequently traps problem beavers as a favor to farmer friends, but prefers to wait until the cold-weather trapping season so the pelts aren't wasted.
The biggest hindrance to beaver-control is animal-rights organizations. When it was suggested that the beavers causing the devastation at the Carnton Plantaton be shot or trapped, animal-rights activists rose up in protest.
The same applies to Radnor Lake. Last winter I talked with a biologist who was studying the lake's beaver problem. When I suggested that the best way to solve it would be to trap some of some of the beavers, he agreed -- but said many of the park's supporters would never agree to it.
So what is their suggested solution? They want to use live traps to catch the beavers unharmed and re-locate them in other areas -- in other words, dump the problem into someone else's lap.
On private property and on state-managed WMAs, the beavers can dispatched, but in suburban areas, on nature reserves and in public parks the problem is more ticklish.
Eventually animal-rights activists may be forced to choose between beavers and the habitat they are rapidly destroying.