Myth Blaster: The Case of the Dam Government Bureaucracy

Problems of Big Government is demonstrated by an email concerning the (alleged) Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Quality and an American citizen of the state of Pennsylvania (alleged), sent in by Diane S., Wisconsin. First the alleged state’s letter …

Subject: DEQ File No. 97-59-0023; T11N; R10W, Sec. 20; Lycoming Country
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 Pennsylvania Compiled Laws, annotated.
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, 2006.
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 action.
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
District Representative and Water Management Division

Mr. DeVries responded in the following manner, pay attention to the artfully crafted wording and the attention-getting satire (as the title to this Myth Blaster investigation) …

Dear Mr. Price,
Your certified letter dated
12/17/02 has been handed to me to respond to. I am the legal landowner but not the Contractor at 2088 Dagget Lane, Trout Run, Pennsylvania.

SpringPondDam_01 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 natures 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.
These are the beavers/contractors you are seeking. 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 dam request?

SpringPondDam_contractor_01 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. …
I have several concerns. My first concern is, aren’t the beavers entitled to legal representation? 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 dam lawyer. 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 harassing them and calling them dam names.

SpringPondDam_contractor_02I f 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 attention to your dam letter, they being unable to read English.
In my humble opinion, the Spring Pond Beavers have a right to build their unauthorized dames as long as the sky is blue, the grass is green and water flows downstream. They have more dam rights 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 natural resources (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
1/31/2006? 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 to 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 dam answering machine, I am sending this response to your dam office.
Thank You,
Ryan DeVries and the Dam Beavers

but altered from original, as well as other added printed material.

Story is true, but someone changed the location of where it occurred from the original true circumstance, as well as left out the original person who actually owned the property or at least in his name. According to Snopes (who did a fine job of investigation) …

The state of Michigan threatened local beavers with a $10,000 per day fine for failing to remove their dam.

The date of the letter was not 2006, but 1997 and it was the Grand Rapids District Office who sent the letter to a Mr. Ryan DeVries of Montcalm County. However, the legal owner was not Mr. DeVries, but Stephen L. Tvedten, and the author of the original letter . See the Truth or Fiction file original version.

In July 1997, one of Stephen Tvedten’s neighbors noticed flooding on his property and traced it back to a dam on Tvedten’s stream. He complained to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on July 28.
Five months later, the agency responded with a letter to the offending land owner. The letter, from David Price, … was blunt. …
Mr. Tvedten responded to the
Michigan DEQ’s demand with the now widely-circulated “dam letter,” in which he pointed out that the “debris dams” he had been ordered to remove because they were constructed without permission from the state of Michigan were actually built by beavers. The DEQ later claimed they were fully aware the “debris dams” were beaver dams; the issue, they said, was that the beavers who built them had long since abandoned the dams, but Mr. Tvedten had been continuing to maintain and even build up the dams himself …
For his part, Mr. Tvedten claimed that the dams had been “abandoned” because a neighbor had killed the beavers (then filed a complaint with the state because he was concerned that the untended dams would break apart and enter his property) and that no one but the beavers had ever maintained them. …
Ken Silfven, public information officer at the State Department of Environmental Quality, said that … the account was correct. He hastened to note, however, that the case was prompted by a complaint from a neighbor who was concerned about flooding caused by the dams.[i] The department dropped its investigation after an inspection by a DEQ employee. “It probably would have been a good idea to do the inspection before we sent the notice,” Silfven said.”
After some wrangling the agency ultimately dropped the issue, but not before Stephen Tvedten found an inventive way of quickly pointing out both how ludicrous and humorous the situation was. …

Of course, people since then have received email with different state departments names attached, but the story originated in Michigan, who apparently has problems with morons working in state government offices, like too many of the other states, and probably governors like Jim Doyle, Wisconsin who believes in the Utopian Big Government – which in turn results in over-taxation, corruption, and stupidity as we have read here. Permits were once designed to ensure safe building practices – now, in every state of the union; it is a means to collect extra revenue as has been proven by Gov. Doyle’s recent largest tax hike in the history of the state of Wisconsin where all licenses and fees have been raised 40% on the average. That is quite a hike. This story represents another aspect of Big Government and the continued encroachment concerning property rights that Americans are losing day-by-day because we fail to be meticulous as to who runs our state and federal government elected offices.
The Snopes entry was last updated on April 9th 2007.
The Strange Tail of the Outlawed Michigan Beaver Dam by David Mastio, The Detroit News, April 5th 1998, p.B5.
State Gives Beavers Cease-and-Desist Order, Associated Press, March 31st 1998.
The Spring Pond Beavers, The Wall Street Journal, March 3rd 1998.
Article, Future Lawyers blog site.
Reality-Based Humour: The DamDaily Kos
The Dam, A True Story Pros and Cons

[i] And it took the intrusive, Big Government five months to respond!