The Mixed Blessing of Beavers

Wren on June 23rd, 2008

As if I weren’t busy enough myself, I’m taking on someone else’s backlog!!! A while back, a family of beavers built a dam on our neighbor’s land, right on the property line with Heathcote Community. The dam is on a part of the stream that humans had dammed back in the 1800’s with an impressive stone wall, diverting the stream for the Heathcote Mill. The mill eventually ceased operation, was later a horse barn, and has been Heathcote Community’s Conference Center for over 40 years. The pond the human dam created reverted back to marshy floodplane, filling in with soil. Bank-retaining trees, such as Japanese fantail pussywillow, have been planted along the winding stream.

The most notable modern feature is that a driveway now runs along the top of that stone wall, accessing the properties of two Heathcote neighbors. Now that beavers have dammed the stream, their pond had flooded that driveway and cascaded over the stone wall, eroding the gravel and asphalt of the driveway and causing our neighbors to have to drive through a new stream when they come and go.

Since the beavers are actually on our neighbor’s land, Heathcoters had several academic discussions about them, but didn’t rush to action. One neighbor did, hacking a huge chunk out of the beaver dam and hauling it away in his pickup. It took the beavers only a few days to repair it, and the water level rose quickly over a few days, again threatening the driveway.

Beavers have a superficial reputation for being highly distructive of the environment, felling numbers of trees and flooding areas with their ponds. However, when you look at their activities in more depth, beavers are actually quite a blessing to an area like ours.

Shortly after our beavers established their pond in the tree filled, marshy area, a family of ducks appeared. Heathcote often has duck pairs pass through, visiting our pond and then moving on to more secluded areas. Now the valley has a safe area for them and I’ve been thrilled to see the babies. Another Heathcoter reports seeing a muskrat at the dam.

As soon as the beavers repaired the dam, I saw a family of otters arrive, including at least 3 young ones! This is more good news, not only because the beaver pond is becoming a habitat for a whole new range of wildlife, but beccause otters make holes in beaver dams (to allow larger fish to pass; easy catching on the other side) thus otter holes help mitigate flooding.

Further, the ponds that beavers create help the water table recharge by slowing down the stream and they deposit enriching minerals in the soil.

So how can Heathcote and our neighbors cohabitate with our beavers and their neighbors–ducks, muskrats and otters? I’ll be meeting with my neighbors in the next few days to discuss solutions I’ve researched. I’ll report back soon. I’d love to hear your experiences with beavers, too!

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