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BEAVERS AND BUREAUCRATS
They say, “You can’t fight city hall,” however city hall has it’s own saying, somewhere along the lines of either, “Beware of kissing pissing babies,” and “Don’t stamp on King Kong’s toes.” This is due to a sad truth bureaucrats learn early: “People don’t get mad, they get even.”
“Getting even.” It is an odd expression, especially in a society that doesn’t, officially at least, accept the idea of Karma. However people say things such as, “What goes around comes around,” and even in Christianity there is the statement, “You reap what you sow,” while science states, “Every action has it’s reaction.” Unofficially, at least, Karma is alive and well, and while young officials think they can outlaw Karma, older officials know better. Even if you make a law against getting even, people will get even, one way or another.
“Getting Even” is the Old Testament idea of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. It is not like the New Testament idea of “turning the other cheek.” It is not a nice concept, for it basically states that if someone hurts you, you are allowed to hurt them back to the same degree, so that the two hurts are “even.”
In other words, two wrongs do make a right, on some primitive level.
It is due to their awareness of this unspiritual side of human nature that anyone who has any experience with public relations is cautious, and indeed walks on eggs, when delivering any sort of official and officious “cease and desist” order. In the inner city injudicious injunctions can trigger a riot, while in the wealthy suburbs you may run up against the wrath of snobs, and either find you are mysteriously laid off or else denied an expected raise or promotion, because someone talked to somebody “behind the scenes.” Out in the country, however, all you are liable to see is a dangerous glint in a bumpkin’s eye, and you’ll immediately know, deep down, you had best apologize, or else risk walking about wearing a target called “reputation.”
In the business of Childcare you run into young bureaucrats eager to show off stuff they learned in college, who walk up to wise grandmothers who have a hundred grandchildren and blithely inform the matriarch she knows nothing about raising children. When politely asked, “How many children have you yourself raised?” these young whippersnappers quite cheerfully respond, “None, but I’ve been to college, and also was a student teacher for a whole semester and a half.” At that point I have noticed grandmothers behave oddly.
Rather than clouting the whippersnapper, the grandmother’s face fills with an expression of compassion and concern, and they take the young bureaucrat under their wing, and try to keep them from hurting themselves. In fact, while it has been my experience that the laws that bureaucrats write, concerning Childcare, are as impractical, obtrusive, obstructive and absurd as the laws written concerning other businesses, the Childcare bureaucrats themselves have a wonderful streak of common sense, and, on occasions when they could “throw the book at you,” are far more likely to “guide you through the red tape.”
I assume this happens because children are the first to probe any law for weakness and any rule for exceptions. It takes far longer for intended good to become unintended bad, in other industries such as wood cutting or chicken farming. Kids can show you that what you thought was a good idea is actually dumb in around thirteen seconds.
Therefore I will skip Childcare bureaucrats, for the remainder of this essay, and instead focus on water-level bureaucrats.
Water-level bureaucrats are the guys in charge of something most would assume God is in charge of. However, in certain cases, the level of water is not determined by rainfall or drought, but rather by a gate on a dam. By adjusting the gate, water is at the right level for docks by summer cottages. With tourism such an important part of the New Hampshire economy, the guy in control of the gate has power.
However it just so happened that one fellow, who I’ll call Hyrum Hoppinmadder, who lived by one lake, decided his property would be much more valuable if he just raised the water level of a pond by a mere four inches. He could barely dock a canoe at his dock, but a mere four inches would enable him to dock a small motor boat. So he decided he would do a dark deed in the dead of night. He crept to the outflow of the pond and replaced a six-inch-wide board with a ten-inch-wide board. Furthermore, he tiptoed on to the stake that measured the water level of the pond, and slightly vandalized that stake, by raising it four inches. Raising the stake was not wise, for the stake soon tilted drunkenly to one side, which caused dawn to break on the brows of others, who noticed strange changes to their own waterfront property.
You would not think a mere four inches would matter, but barely-adequate beaches disappeared, waterside trees sickened and looked likely to die, toilets that once flushed ceased flushing, and indeed the quality of the pond’s water changed and fish stopped jumping, as an four extra inches of soil leeched into the pond. While some blamed Global Warming, others blamed Hyrum, who seemed perfectly happy about the change, and who strangely had a motorboat at his dock when he’d always had a canoe, before.
Obviously the situation was a delicate one, to be handled with kid gloves, because to serve Hyrum with a cease and desist order would spark a feud between pro-Hyrum and anti-Hyrum locals. Fortunately a wise head oversaw the situation, and did the wise thing, which was to pass the buck to an “outsider.” A engineer from the State came in and, even though the tilted water-level gauge stated the level was the same, by looking at the stains on waterside rocks, he determined the water had risen four inches. He went to the outlet gate and, after carefully looking at the aged plank, determined it was a counterfeit and not quite the same as the original. He announced state regulation 87B492 sub-clause 56C had been violated, and replaced the ten-inch board with a six-inch board. Beaches reappeared, dying trees came back to life, toilets again flushed, fish began jumping, and everyone except Hyrum was happy.
I tell this tale to show a situation where a bureaucrat can butt in and actually make things better. Of course, as a meddling “outsider” he expected nothing but blame and abuse, however the State engineer was surprised in this case, because his department got few letters from incensed taxpayers, though he and his department did get six furious threats from some fellow he didn’t know, called Hyrum.
Usually, however, water levels are not so stable. There are reletively few pristine lakes in New Hampshire whose levels don’t change. Those few, (and usually very large,) lakes fill the drowned valleys scooped out by long-ago glaciers, with outlets over solid granite that cannot be raised or lowered, whose water levels may briefly rise in floods but soon return to their constant and steady levels, allowing old pines and oaks to grow on their shores.
Pines and Oaks are not all that interesting to another engineer, whom the State Engineer knows personally, and knows is more powerful than the State, because this other engineer is God’s Engineer, also called the “Beaver.”
Beavers raise water levels all over New Hampshire not four inches, but four feet, and have done so for thousands of years. They create ponds out of streams and lakes out of small ponds, and are part of a rather neat three-step-succession of vegetation.
Beaver love poplar and alder and willows and birches, but tend to eat themselves out of house and home, and eventually have to abandon their dams and lodges and look for new groves of poplar, alders, willows and birches. Once they stop caring for their dam it rots and washes away, and the pond is replaced by a grassy meadow. The very first trees to move in and colonize the meadow are, (you guessed it,) poplars, alders, willows and birches. Therefore, when beavers return to the exact place which they once denuded of poplar, alder, willow and birch, they find a feast. In a sense they have but left the ground fallow, and seen it be enriched.
This succession of pond, to meadow, to grove of trees happens over and over again. In some places it has happened several hundred times since the last ice age ended. Because silt collects in their ponds and fails to fully wash away before the next pond is built, beavers gradually build up flat areas of rich topsoil in once sterile, notched valley bottoms. Also, because they tend to rebuild their new dams on the low rotted remenents of old dams which cross valleys, these mounds gradually grow larger until even when the beavers are gone they form dry walkways across swampy areas.
Then along came man, who preferred a meadow to remain a meadow. Beavers were hunted as edible vermin, unwanted except for their valuable fur, which became especially valuable when top hats such as Abraham Lincoln’s became all the rage and were made of such fur.
Beavers all but vanished from New England, but their geology remained. Their old dams were used as the foundations for roads, with the stream passing under the road in a culvert. Upstream, where the pond had been, was a lush meadow. Often it was a “ditched pasture,” with some of the ditches a memory of the “canals” beavers dig. In places such idyllic farmland thrived, beaver-free, for close to three hundred years, before farming started to become less profitable, and the fields began to be abandoned, and the trees returned. So did the beavers, though their recovery was more slow, primarily due to the Great Depression. People had families to feed, and not only is beaver fur valuable, but their meat is edible.
Then came the post war boom, and much farmland outside cities turned into suburbs. People no longer had to eke by on hardscrabble farms, barely scraping up enough to pay the mortgage and taxes. (In my town the money made by children picking blueberries during the summer vacation often made the difference between a farm that was merely impoverished, and homelessness.) Instead people made far more money commuting and working nine-to-five jobs, and many became wealthy enough to move from hardscrabble farms to plusher, suburban developments. Left to themselves, the beavers thrived. They too became wealthy, in a beaverish sort of way, and consequently they too decided to move to the suburbs.
A beaver sees a suburb differently than a human. Where a human sees a road with a culvert, a beaver sees a forefather’s dam, and where humans see a farmer’s meadow turned into a twelve-unit housing development, a beaver sees some really yummy flowering crabs, cherries, and some less-desirable lilacs and Japanese maples that will do for dinner in a pinch, and serve well as building material. So the beaver becomes as busy as a beaver, and, because he has only a culvert to block, rather than an entire valley, he can literally raise the water level four feet over night.
This outrages the humans, who can awake to driveways awash and feet of water in their basements. Their first and foremost impulse is to kill the over-sized rat, and that was what was done when I was young. (It does no good to remove the dam, firstly because doing so is very hard work, because such dams are amazingly well-built of interwoven branches, tangled weeds and twigs, and well-packed mud, and also because, even if you remove the dam, the beaver can once again build another overnight.) The only real solution is to remove the beaver, however nowadays bureaucracies step in.
In some places, where beaver were once rare, they are a “protected species,” even though they are no longer endangered, because they bred like only rodents can do. Also, as soon as a beaver floods lawns, lawns become “wetlands,” and a whole slew of other rules and regulations kick into effect. Furthermore, when you break a dam you create a brief down stream flash flood, and alerts and warnings must be issued. There are likely other bureaucracies involved as well, that I can’t think of, at the moment, involving other permits and forms and red tape, which a man doesn’t want to deal with when water is about to pour into his basement and destroy his furnace and hot water heater, and perhaps even make his home condemnable. He wants to act and to act swiftly, and if you tell him he must fill out form 264B and bring it to an office six towns away, you are liable to see a dangerous glint in the man’s eye.
It is situations such as this that separate the good bureaucrats from the ones who wonder why they never get promoted, and instead get transferred to Siberia. The good ones know about loopholes in the law, and about “waivers,” and about obscure “emergency stipulations.” The bad ones….
Well, rather than writing any more I will just quote two letters I found floating around on the internet. They say what I could try to state better than I ever could:
This is a copy of an actual letter sent to Ryan DeVries, from the
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, State of Michigan. Wait
till you read this guy’s response – but read the entire letter before
you get to the response.
Mr. Ryan DeVries
Pierson, MI 49339
SUBJECT: DEQ File No. 97-59-0023; T11N; R10W, Sec. 20;
Site Location: Montcalm County
Dear Mr. DeVries:
It has come to the attention of the Department of Environmental Quality
that there has been recent unauthorized activity on the above referenced
parcel of property. You have been certified as the legal landowner
and/or contractor who did the following unauthorized activity:
Construction and maintenance of two wood debris dams across the outlet
stream of Spring Pond.
A permit must be issued prior to the start of this type of activity. A
review of the Department’s files shows that no permits have been issued.
Therefore, the Department has determined that this activity is in
violation of Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource
and Environmental Protection Act, Act 451 of the Public Acts of 1994,
being sections 324.30101 to 324.30113 of the Michigan Compiled Laws
The Department has been informed that one or both of the dams partially
failed during a recent rain event, causing debris and flooding at
downstream locations. We find that dams of this nature are inherently
hazardous and cannot be permitted.
The Department therefore orders you to cease and desist all activities
at this location, and to restore the stream to a free-flow condition by
removing all wood and brush forming the dams from the stream channel.
All restoration work shall be completed no later than January 31, 2002.
Please notify this office when the restoration has been completed so
that a follow-up site inspection may be scheduled by our staff. Failure
to comply with this request or any further unauthorized activity on the
site may result in this case being referred for elevated enforcement
We anticipate and would appreciate your full cooperation in this matter.
Please feel free to contact me at this office if you have any questions.
David L. Price
Land and Water Management Division
Dear Mr. Price,
Re: DEQ File No. 97-59-0023; T11N; R10W, Sec. 20;
Reference your certified letter dated 12/17/2000 has been referred to me
to respond to. First of all, Mr. Ryan De Vries is not the legal
landowner and/or contractor at 2088 Dagget, Pierson, Michigan.
I am the legal owner and a couple of beavers are in the (State
unauthorized) process of constructing and maintaining two wood “debris”
dams across the outlet stream of my Spring Pond.
While I did not pay for, authorize, nor supervise their dam project, I
think they would be highly offended that you call their skillful use of
natural building materials “debris.” I would like to challenge your
department to attempt to emulate their dam project any time and/or any
place you choose. I believe I can safely state there is no way you could
ever match their dam skills, their dam resourcefulness, their dam
ingenuity, their dam persistence, their dam determination and/or their
dam work ethic.
As to your request, I do not think the beavers are aware that they must
first fill out a dam permit prior to the start of this type of dam
activity. My first dam question to you is:
(1) Are you trying to discriminate against my Spring Pond Beavers? or,
(2) do you require all beavers throughout this State to conform to said
If you are not discriminating against these particular beavers, through
the Freedom of Information Act I request completed copies of all those
other applicable beaver dam permits that have been issued. Perhaps we
will see if there really is a dam violation of P! art 301, Inland Lakes
and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act,
Act 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, being sections 324.3010,1 to
324.30113 of the Michigan Compiled Laws, annotated. I have several
concerns. My first concern is aren’t the beavers entitled to legal
The Spring Pond Beavers are financially destitute and are unable to pay
for said representation – so the State will have to provide them with a
The Department’s dam concern that either one or both of the dams failed
during a recent rain event causing flooding is proof that this is a
natural occurrence, which the Department is required to protect. In
other words, we should leave the Spring Pond Beavers alone rather than
harrass them and call their dam names. If you want the stream “restored”
to a dam free-flow condition – please contact the beavers – but if you
are going to arrest them they obviously did not pay any attention to
your dam letter (being unable to read English).
In my humble ! opinion, the Spring Pond Beavers have a right to build
their unauthorized dams as long as the sky is blue, the grass is green
and water flows downstream. They have more dam right than I do to live
and enjoy Spring Pond. If the Department of Natural Resources and
Environmental Protection lives up to its name, it should protect the
(Beavers) and the environment (Beavers’ Dams).
So, as far as the beavers and I are concerned, this dam case can be
referred for more elevated enforcement action right now. Why wait until
1/31/2002 The Spring Pond Beavers may be under the dam ice then, and
there will be no way for you or your dam staff to contact/harass them
In conclusion, I would like to bring to your attention a real
environmental quality (health) problem in the area. It is the bears.
Bears are actually defecating in our woods. I definitely believe you
should be persecuting the defecating bears and leave the beavers alone.
If you are going to investigate the beaver dam, watch your step! (The
bears are not careful where they dump!)
Being unable to comply with your dam request, and being unable to
contact you on your answering machine, I am sending this response to
your office via another government organization – the USPS. Maybe,
someday, it will get there.
Stephen L. Tvedten
The University of Texas at: Austin
Office Community Relations/Accounting unit
P.O. Box 7367
Austin, TX 78713
O thus be it ever, when free men shall stand; Between their loved homes
and the war’s desolation; Blessed with victory and peace, may the
heaven’s rescued land; Praise the power that hath made, and preserved us
a nation. Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just; And this be
“In God is our Trust”; And the Star Spangled Banner in triumph shall
wave, O’er the land of the free & the home of the brave. (last verse of