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Draper Fight Centers On Beaver Dams, Wetlands, Flood Control

Two small beaver dams lie at the heart of a quarrel in Draper. County flood officials are ordering residents to take them down. But the homeowners say the dams protect the wildlife and value of their homes.

Kelly McAdams says the notice of violation letter came on Christmas Eve.

“Inspection by Salt Lake County Flood Control,” he says, reading from the letter, “has indicated that fallen tree limbs and debris have been deposited in the form of a beaver dam into Big Willow Creek, a county-wide drainage facility, without authorization.”

Next month, McAdams goes before an administrative law judge and expects to lose, considering beavers and wetlands have no standing in county law. But he and his wife are set on preserving this patch of habitat for the beavers and all the other creatures that rely on this wetland wonderland.

“It tears me up,” says Kris. “Like I said: I’m a Nature Woman and I love animals. And, and – how can anybody want to change what’s here, what’s always been here to make it look like rocks and just some water down the middle?”

Credit Judy Fahys / KUER News
County officials say the beaver dams pose a flooding and debris risk. But the beavers take their engineering work seriously, as nearby residents know well.

Kris tosses kibble to the ducks and geese that flock to the house each morning. And the neighbors spray river water over their yards in the summer.

But, where the McAdams see migrating birds and pretty streamside grasses, county public works officials see liabilities to people and property.

“The county, through its flood-control division, under code and ordinance,” says Rick Graham, Salt Lake County’s deputy mayor for operations, “is responsible to keep the channels clear.”

Both sides have said they’ve tried to find a compromise. But the sticking point is those two old beaver dams, and the fight could eventually wind up in court.

“You know I could easily give up and let them have their way,” says Kelly McAdams. “But I think it’s too important to do that."

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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