Because Horry County is so flat, residents know that heavy rains can cause significant flooding as the storm water meanders its way through creeks, swamps and rivers, and eventually into the ocean.
Along the way, beaver dams can make that flooding worse.
Whether blocking a creek, a storm drain or part of a swamp, beaver dams in Horry County — spurred in part by numerous trees felled by recent hurricanes — now cause significant flooding and incur a significant cost to the county government.
As County Council members debate next year’s budget, some have come up with a novel solution, one that would both solve the beaver problem, and save the county some money along the way: They’ll put a bounty on beavers, allowing local hunters to kill as many as they want, and get paid per beaver.
“Why do we not just put a bounty on beavers and turn Horry County’s hunters loose? And say, ‘If you go out there and find a beaver, send it to beaver heaven and bring us the pelt,’” County Council member Johnny Vaught suggested at the county’s spring budget retreat Thursday.
Such a program, in theory, would work like this: Horry County would put a call out to licensed hunters and ask them to focus on killing beavers. For every beaver pelt the hunters turn into the county, they’ll be paid a small amount, potentially between $15 and $30 per rodent. County Council members believe doing so would allow them to rid the county of nuisance beavers and save money along the way.
Currently, the county maintains a contract with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to kill beavers that cause problems. County Council members said that contract includes three USDA agents, paid $75,000 each. In addition, the county’s stormwater department deploys workers to destroy beaver dams that cause flooding, incurring a cost there, too. Some council members estimated that in total, the county spends several million dollars each year just mitigating the beaver problem.
The county attorney, Arrigo Carotti, told councilors he would review state law and recommend to them what parameters such a bounty program may require. County officials and a spokesperson for the state Dept. of Natural Resources, though, said such a program is likely legal.
“Whatever is allowable by the DNR regulations, I would not discourage hunters from taking that opportunity,” said David Gilreath, the assistant county administrator for infrastructure and regulation.
David Lucas, the DNR spokesperson, said South Carolina has the power to implement bounty programs for nuisance animals, but was unsure if that power extended to county governments. However, he said, hunters can hunt beavers year-round as long as they have a license. County governments can also authorize their employees to kill beavers through a different type of permit.
“Beavers can be legally hunted now as long as you have a license,” Lucas said.
Such bounty programs, though rare, aren’t a novel concept in South Carolina. In 2016, the state allowed DNR to create an incentive program to control invasive coyotes. DNR would trap, tag and release several coyotes in a given area, and told hunters that if they killed a tagged coyote they could win a lifetime hunting license. The aim, Lucas said, was to encourage hunters to kill coyotes when they were out deer hunting, with the hope they’d kill both tagged and untagged coyotes.
In Horry County, several council members believe hunters in their districts would jump at the chance to hunt nuisance beavers, especially if the county offered to pay.
“There’s no question about it,” said Council member Danny Hardee, who represents a largely rural area between Conway and Loris. “You put $25-$30 per beaver, (hunters) will have a truckload of them shortly.”
if such a beaver bounty program is successful, councilors said, the county could then reallocate the money its spending on tearing down dams and killing beavers to other stormwater projects, something that’s needed as the county continues to experience bad flooding.
“The beavers are very expensive to the people of Horry County and they’re causing a lot of our flooding problems,” Hardee said. “They’re part of the flooding, they’re part of the taxes we have to pay. So yeah, I’d love to see a bounty put on them.”