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Beavers' Poplar Sweet Tooth Leaves Residents Powerless

Tuesday, July 25, 2000

By George Barnes Telegram & Gazette Staff

WINCHENDON-- Darn those beavers. They're at it again. This time they're taking down power lines.

Beavers have been blamed recently for flooding and destroying roads and driveways, creating ponds out of back yards and spreading illness by fouling pond water with their feces.

The latest wrinkle is something a Massachusetts Electric Co. official says power companies have to deal with more and more.

Power to homes and businesses in the River Street area was partially or completely knocked out yesterday morning when a beaver felled a 20-foot poplar tree, tearing down a main line and shorting another. The beaver love those poplars, said Glenn L. Belloli, area supervisor for Massachusetts Electric, as he waited for trucks to arrive to repair the damage.

Mr. Belloli said beavers favor the bark of the rapidly growing poplars, which are found in the same swampy areas that the animals frequent.

Along with the tree that fell over the wires, another poplar could be seen in the woods nearby, leaning at a 45-degree angle. The tree was also apparently the victim of a beaver.

Winchendon Police were called about 10 a.m. on a report of wires burning on River Street. Discovering the downed wire, they put up emergency cones and contacted Massachusetts Electric Co. In just over one hour, the damage was repaired and power restored.

Hungry for the succulent poplar and other tree bark and looking for building materials for their dams, beavers often cause problems for power companies.

We run into it continually, Mr. Belloli said. It's gotten worse in the last couple years because of the trapping laws."

Sometimes the trees fall in the woods and the animals feast on them, stripping the bark and removing limbs for use in building dams and lodges. Other times the trees land in roads or hit power lines, Mr. Belloli said. They cause us a lot of trouble, he said.

Mr. Belloli said that occasionally workers find dead beavers crushed by trees they had gnawed down. Other times the beavers are electrocuted when the trees hit the power lines and become electrified.

Yesterday, the poplar tree damaged a three-phase circuit providing power to the southwest area of Winchendon. Because of the nature of the circuit, power remained on at reduced levels to some homes or businesses as well as at the town waste water treatment plant. Mr. Belloli said the town was fortunate: If the break had occurred a few poles down on the other side of a switch, it could have knocked out power to a large section of the town.

Many of the recent beaver problems have been attributed to the 1996 law prohibiting the use of certain types of traps in capturing the animals. Since the passage of the law, which was approved overwhelmingly by voters, public safety and wildlife officials have become increasingly concerned about the growth of the beaver population and the flooding caused by their dams.

In Ashburnham recently, a railroad bed into which a beaver dam was built collapsed from the pressure of water behind it and a section of Route 12 was flooded. Two years ago, a section of Route 122 in Barre was also damaged when a beaver dam was breached to relieve flooding.

Earlier this month, the Legislature passed a bill expanding the definition of a threat to human health and safety to make it easier for beavers and muskrats to be trapped and destroyed when their dams create problems.

Mr. Belloli said Massachusetts Electric Co. tries to trim trees near its wires to prevent problems, but the poplar felled yesterday was well away from the road.

-- (, July 26, 2000

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