the dilemma

I’ve just finished uploading the last of the bioblitz photos from the farm into my online galleries on Pbase. Later today, I’ll go through all of the images and ID and caption as many as I can, and then fill in a report sheet to send to the team that will be compiling the data for the Blogger BioBlitz.

As it turns out, I’ll have an extra mammal to add to my very short list. I’d hoped to see a fox or coyote around the farm this week, but they must have been hiding from view. In their place, just a few days ago, a small beaver dam suddently “appeared” in the drainage creek behind the barn. I’ve been watching it ever since, and over the weekend, I finally caught sight of the builder sliding off the bank and into the water. So, it seems that we now we have a beaver in residence. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo of the builder, but that’s the small dam above.

Of course, the sudden appearance of the beaver and the little dam now present us with a dilemma. Do we leave it be, or do we break it up before he/she becomes settled in? No doubt, the beaver swam up here looking for a place to build its dam after having its last one broken up somewhere further downstream. In fact, I expect I know right where it came from.

At the moment, we’re not quite sure what we’ll do. Chances are that we’ll probably try to discourage the beaver so that it wanders off elsewhere. But, in truth, we don’t really mind that it has dammed off the drainage creek (really more a wide ditch than anything else). With the kind of summers we’ve been having in recent years (hot and dry), the ditch dries up a lot by midsummer and doesn’t provide good habitat for frogs and other creatures anymore. We realize that wasn’t the original purpose of this ditch when it was dug over thirty years ago, but we’re more than happy to see it full of water, cattails, and salix as that provides good habitat for the frogs and odonates, and also for the warblers, blackbirds and other birds that nest along its length. The only real problem with the beaver taking up residence is that it will cut down trees, and in fact, yesterday, I noticed that it has begun cutting down a poplar next to the water.

Anyhow, we haven’t quite decided what to do. As things stand, the dam is holding back a bit of water in the ditch and it seems that the Leopard Frogs are quite pleased as they’ve been snoring and croaking away for the past few days. Don noticed a Mallard duck swimming around back there last night. I’m wondering if we might get Bitterns nesting along the creek again now. They haven’t nested back there over the past few years — probably as there just isn’t enough water to interest them.

So, there it is — the dilemma of letting things take their course, or doing the practical thing and breaking up the dam. Perhaps coincidentally, there’s been quite a discussion about beaver dams taking place on the local NatureList email listserve. Several of the members of the listserve don’t mind having the beaver on their property, but have soon discoved that their neighbours are less than pleased. I guess we’re not the only ones trying to figure out the “right” thing to do.

Well, back to figuring out IDs for bioblitz photos. With any luck, I’ll post a final report on our bioblitzing effort here at the farm sometime tomorrow.

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11 Responses to “the dilemma”

  1. robin andrea Says:

    I wonder how many trees this beaver will fall in order to make the dam. Can your property afford that tree loss? If it can, and that’s your consideration, it sounds like the beaver might be able to stay. Could you give it a year, and if it becomes more of a nuisance, then discourage it from staying? I know my inclination would be to let it stay and see if it is too destructive. The gain in other wildlife might offset a bit of the tree loss.

  2. David Says:

    Break the dam.
    We had them several years ago and to robin’s point, they took down a lot of trees and did other damage. We actually bought fencing to ring several trees we just didn’t want them to drop.
    The 2nd spring the rains washed them out and although I confess to missing watching ‘them’ I am glad to see them no more.

  3. Jimmy Says:

    This would be a problem…I would wait and see what damage it will cause. On the other hand the dams do create better habitat…tough choice you have to make.

  4. John Says:

    My gut says leave them be…but having no practical experience with such things, I’d probably listen carefully to those who know more than I. I value trees, too, and would hate that the beaver dam would equate to further tree loss. My advice? Don’t listen to me. Listen to your own knowledge and experience and other people more knowledgeable than I.

  5. Cathy Says:

    Hypothetical question:

    If a large stack of wood cut at the lengths that beavers require were placed in areas where beavers were actively starting a dam – would they use the pre-cut wood or would instinct compel them to fell trees while ignoring the proffered wood?

    Gee. I just can’t imagine having a dilemma like that – to live in such a wonderfully wild place. However, I don’t think I could stand to see beloved trees go down.

  6. burning silo Says:

    robin – Most beaver dams are built mainly of smaller sticks that have been packed together with mud. The tree felling is more a food thing. Once a tree is down, they’ll usually gnaw through sections of it, as it this photo. It’s not so bad if they keep working on one tree, but they are a bit notorious for starting to work on other trees as well. If you just have a small number of beaver — one or two, the tree cutting isn’t too bad, but if there’s a group, they can pretty well clear-cut the perimeter of a pond, and then they often move on. It’s quite surprising how far they will go to cut down a tree. Don and I have encountered beaver cutting trees far from water, and found trails through the bush where beaver have dragged branches back to their lodges. We’ve sort of decided to just let the beaver stay for now. First, we don’t mind the dam being there — the irony to all of this is that I was recently thinking that it would be a lot nicer if the ditch was filled with water, and about two days later, the beaver dam appeared – almost as thought someone had read my mind. From my brief view of the beaver, it looks pretty small, and I’m guessing its a refugee from a lodge that was probably broken up downstream after the parents were trapped (the municipalities here remove beaver from any drainage creeks). Later in the summer, I expect the water levels in the ditch will drop down low enough that the beaver will get discouraged and move elsewhere. They don’t really like it too much when the water is so low that they can’t swim around and hide below the water level.

    David – Yes, it’s the trees that I’m mainly concerned about. Although I’ve pretty much decided to let this beaver stick around for the summer, I’m going to get a roll of chicken wire and wrap the trunks of the trees that I care about preserving and then let the beaver cut any that I’m not worried about (the poplar that grow like weeds around here ). As mentioned in my reply to robin’s comment, this ditch will surely dry out as summer progresses, and I expect this little beaver will wander back downstream to the main municipal drainage creek where the water is deeper — at least, that’s my conclusion after pondering over the situation for a couple of days! (-:

    Jimmy – That’s pretty much how I’m thinking of this. In our area, there is getting to be increasingly less habitat for creatures that require at least a small area of water to exist. This isn’t a huge body of water — but the drainage ditch is about 10 feet wide and 1000 feet long, filled with salix and cattails for much of the length, so it’s actually big enough to offer some habitat for frogs and even turtles if they should find their way to it. Also, as mentioned, Bittern used to nest around the ditch back when things didn’t dry up as much as they do these days – so it would be nice if they returned.

    John – Well, this decision may not be based on the most practical thinking, but I believe we can just sort of let things happen for awhile and see what develops. I walk through that area of the fields a couple or so times each day, so I’ll be able to monitor the situation and if things start to get out of hand, we can always do something later. In the meantime, this will be an interesting experiment.

    Cathy – The sticks for the dam building aren’t really the problem in this situation. Most dams are actually made of fairly small branches and mud, so leaving sticks for the beaver wouldn’t really stop the main tree-cropping activity of the beaver. That’s more of an instinct and food-related activity. They do prefer certain trees — we’ve definitely seen them walk a distance to get to an ash tree, and we happen to have a nice ash not far from the drainage creek. As mentioned above, I’ll get some chicken wire this week and do some tree wrapping to try to deter this beaver. So far, it seems to be swimming back and forth along the ditch (the water is maybe 2 or so feet deep right now — and it’s mainly cutting the salix that grows in the water, so it’s not doing any damage. I don’t even mind if it cuts the poplar down as they die and fall down on their own anyhow. I wouldn’t like to see it wandering further looking for ash and birch trees though, so I’ll have to work on protecting them. Anyhow, I see it as an opportunity to study this animal’s behaviour and see how its presence changes the habitat here.

  7. Celeste Says:

    Dang, I just wrote a rambling post to you, and it got lost in the ether. The gist was, I vote for the beaver. The land will become ever more fruitful and multiply. And you’ll have the patience to let it unfold.

    Love your delicious-y ugly molting caterpillar, too

  8. Cathy Says:

    They EAT the bark?! My husband is sitting here going, “YES – they eat the bark.” What the heck was I thinking. My only excuse: no beavers in Loudonville, Ohio.

  9. burning silo Says:

    Celeste – I decided to let the beaver stay — at least for awhile. It did cut down its first tree today, but I figured it would. I’ll try to find a way to protect our favourite trees and let it eat the poplars. If it gets too destructive, I guess I’ll figure out where to go from there.

    Cathy – I just got mixed up and replied to your comment on the next post — but yes, they do eat bark. I read a study on the diet of beaver and I think I recall that they have to eat a couple of pounds of wood materials per day … maybe even more for large ones.

  10. Peter Says:

    Well, I’m glad you are letting it stay :-) I hope you will give us a update now and then.

  11. burning silo Says:

    Peter – I’ll have an update coming right up! (-: