The beavers of Briar Chapel won't get a reprieve.
Wednesday night the homeowners association board voted to eradicate a colony of about 35 beavers that have built several dams along Pokeberry Creek in the northern Chatham County community, according to a listserv thread on Nextdoor.
"I wish it didn't have to be this way," said Garretson Browne, president of the Briar Chapel Community Association board of directors. "This decision wasn't made on a whim. We evaluated a number of options before we reached this conclusion."
The board had discussed the beavers at least once before, Browne said.
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Still some people in the community and nearby neighborhoods rallied to the animals' defense.
Wayne Hadley, a Briar Chapel resident, started an online petition on change.org to save the beavers. Almost 1,300 had signed it by Thursday night.
"It's supposed to be about the great diversity of wildlife around us," Hadley said. "Killing the beavers doesn't sound very humane, and I think it sends the wrong message."
Hadley said he enjoys taking his two young sons on nature walks and seeing the beavers
"I would like to see the board be a little more open-minded," he said.
Briar Chapel bills itself as a retreat. The homepage for the community says "Welcome to your sanctuary." It is a relatively new development just south of Chapel Hill.
Browne said the beavers became a problem about two months ago. That's when board consulted with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services about its options.
He said they asked about trapping and relocating the beavers but learned the animals now are considered nuisance wildlife and cannot legally be relocated.
Browne said they also asked about various devices which keep the water behind the dams at manageable levels.
"We were told that with the number of beavers we have that this wasn't an option, either," Browne said. "That left us with the most extreme option."
Browne said Wildlife Services will begin trapping the animals in the next couple of weeks. The traps capture and kill the beavers under water usually before they drown. It will likely take a month to kill all the beavers. The dams then will be breached and the ponds behind them drained.
Left unchecked, the beavers could continue building bigger dams and trapping more water. This could endanger some of the community assets, Browne said. Water already encroaches within a foot of several bridges along the community's nature trails, he said.
One of the dams holds enough water that it reaches a dead-end cul de sac in neighboring Polk's Landing.
Gary Ace, who lives in Polk's Landing, said he often walks to the end of Creeks Edge Road to watch the beavers.
"People would like to work something out," Ace said. "Everybody here likes to see what the beavers have created."
But given time, Browne said he expects more beavers will eventually come back to the creek.
"This is is going to be a long-term management of the beavers," Browne said. "We've got to get the population under control. We don't have issues with beavers. We have issues with the number of beavers. If we can find a way to cohabitate with the beavers in the future, we will."