JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ Armed with explosives, guns and cages, a mini-army of experts wages a day-in, day-out battle in Mississippi with an unlikely enemy _ a brown furry creature.

Last year alone beavers caused nearly $3 million in damages to timber, roads, bridges and crops in the state.

Mississippians complain about armadillos, bats, fish-eating birds, deer, geese, snakes and skunks, but the beaver is by far the most troublesome, said Kevin Sullivan of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

State lawmakers were asked last week to put nearly $1 million into a beaver control program in which animal specialists respond to complaints from land owners and county officials.

``They're usually at their wit's end when they get ahold of us,'' Sullivan said of Mississippians with beaver problems. ``They've tried all the old-fashioned home remedies, all the tales they've heard about like using human hair, ground-up soap, broken glass _ you name it.''

The federal and state governments share the costs of the program. Counties put up $2,000 a year to be members, and there is a waiting list of counties wanting to join.

The number of counties has doubled in the past seven years, and an additional four counties are being added this year, to bring participation up to 64 of the 82 counties.

Generally, county leaders say the aggressive beaver battle is paying off.

``They're very pesky critters,'' said Rhea Fuller, Warren County road manager for the past decade. ``Before this program was started there was no question the beavers were winning. The war is not won by any stretch of the imagination, but a lot of improvement has taken place.''

Forrest County Supervisor Lynn Cartlidge said for years his county paid trappers per animal they killed but had little success stopping the dam problems. He said in the past five years the program is working and the destructive beavers are being outsmarted.

The 23 beaver experts work out of their homes and in USDA-marked pickup trucks. When they get a complaint, the specialists go out to inspect damage from the animal's burrowing or dam-building.

They have a number of methods at their disposal, according to Sullivan, the district manager for the USDA's Wildlife Services office in Starkville.

They can rake out a beaver dam then try to capture the responsible beavers. They can use dynamite to eradicate a beaver's work. Also, they may construct a device to keep beavers out of an area.

There are also a variety of trapping techniques. The rodents that are caught are killed.

USDA figures show that last year in Mississippi, beavers caused $1.2 million damage to timber, $1.2 million to roads and bridges, $283,000 to ditches and more than $100,000 to crops and other things.

Johnson said troubled farmers have been known to resort to desperate measures to battle wily beavers.

``I've heard of all kinds of things, farmers staying up all night. They get a six-pack of beer and shotgun and camp out,'' said Johnson, a farmer who has not had beaver problems on his land.

Fuller, whose expertise is with beaver damage along roadways, also can attest to their persistence.

``Their ingenuity is pretty good. They can plug a draining pipe in a heartbeat,'' he said.