Now it's beavers

rococogurlJanuary 1, 2007

I was really surprised when I posted a thread about the coyote I saw in my yard a few months ago and so many responded and saw them nearby as well.

Now, we have so many beavers in the stream out back the former "swamp" is turning into a lake. I'm told there are about 100 of them, dozens of lodges and we can see clearly that the stream rising by several feet.

Anyone else seen this? Is it OK? Are beavers "good" to have around?

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Beavers are not good. They can put your property under water in no time. It's against the law to kill them in some areas. You'll need to call animal control to ask.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2007 at 10:01PM
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Allison has seen a photo of my beaver pond! We have one acre under water and the 30 acres of conservation land next to us are also under water. What used to be thick woods, a little swampy in places, is now a pond. It is a gradual, and sometimes a little bit ugly, process.

All the trees that get flooded will eventually die. The area will be all dead trees. After a few years they will rot and fall down and it will look pond like. It does give us great views and privacy. Lots of wildlife, ducks, geese, great blue herons, hawks, and lots of noisy frogs in the spring!

Beavers are protected in MA. Towns will intervene if there is any danger to town wells or residents septic systems. Our beaver pond has a "beaver deceaver" - this is a pipe placed through the main dam, it allows some water to flow through and maintain the water at a certain level. The pipe has to be surrounded by a large wire enclosure so the beavers can't block the flow of water.

Do you know how beavers build their dams? The furry rodents cut down any tree they can get their paws on!! Believe me, they can take down some BIG trees. They will go after everything. The upside, the cycle lasts about 20 years and once they have depleted the trees they move on.

If you have a private lot and can reach the dams, I would be over there ... umm... remodeling! They are hard to take apart if they get big ... not that I would know anything about that!!

In the past landowners in MA would destroy dams and kill the beavers, a continuous job as new ones moved in. Find the laws in your state/town to see what you can do.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2007 at 10:55PM
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Beavers can be a real problem. My family built a cottage when I was a kid and we would go to the cottage maybe every 2 weeks or so. A beaver built a dam and flooded our entire lot inbetween when we were there. My Dad tore up the dam several times but the next morning we would find the dam rebuilt in the exact same place. I don't recall being told what happened to the beaver but he was no longer a problem. My Dad put in drainage for the low areas and we never had any more beaver problems.

Beavers are protected where we live now, but our property sits very high so we are not in danger of flooding. But my neighbors that sit low have been fighting with the beavers forever.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2007 at 11:07PM
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I've had beavers on my farm and they are wonderful creatures! Yes, they eat trees; yes, they build dams which often create inconveniently-placed new ponds. But the explosion of wild life is extraordinary.

You can protect very important trees in the non-flooded areas by wrapping them with chicken wire. And you can install devices to try to limit the amount of flooding. (I'm in NY and you need a permit to do so from NYSDEC, but they are readily given.)

Many people told me I would be left with an ugly mess after they left (and they do after they've exhausted the nearby trees). I was determined to let it happen without interference and it turned out to be nowhere near the visual or environmental problem that was predicted even though they raised the water about eight feet and flooded nearly 30 acres of my land. The only intervention I had to make was to install a flow-control device through one of their dams which used the upstream side of my only access road, threatenting to innundate it.

In NY you can't disturb or damage their dams without a permit. Other states probably have regulations as well. But if they are actually damaging houses, driveways, etc., it is likely you can have them trapped or moved. They are likely to be hibernating now (and for the next few months) so you have some time to make a plan.

I really enjoyed the time the beavers were here. For the last year they were here, I regularly got small trees and trimmings from the powerline clearing crews in my area to take to the beavers in order to supplement the dwindling amount of natural trees.

There is an interesting book about living with beavers. The title is Beaversprite. It's about a woman in central NY who enjoyed her beavers so much she built her house out over the water and put in ramps so they could come into the house through the cellar. It's probably out of print now, but the book is worth tracking down if only for the pictures of the beavers sitting at table with her. I'm not kidding.

You should get a spectacular flush of wildlife, including birds next spring. Otters came and lived in my enormously-enlarged pond after the beavers over flooded the existing one. That, alone, was worth what trouble the beavers created.

Enjoy the beavers!


    Bookmark   January 2, 2007 at 12:54AM
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Appreciate all the responses. Always helpful.

I went down the hill this morning to try to gauge what was going on. It appears that the creek has risen but also widened significantly. When we moved in we could see the stream from the second floor; now we can see it from the first. I can see the little waterfall (in background about 2 o'clock, second tree from the right) so they are not stopping up the river completely -- it's still flowing and with an even stronger current than ever.

Funny, but the pond has improved our views from the house.

The house is not at issue at all as we are on the top of a hill and this is all completely in back.

We are in the woods so the trees are quite unlimited. But it's disconcerting to see water halfway up very large trees that formerly were on the river bank. My neighbor across the way has more at risk than we do. Also, trees in water are pretty common around here as we've got significant wetlands.

Always had lots of wildlife of all sorts, which is one of the nice things. Just no place to canoe or fish before.

I'm interested in being proactive and creating a little balance before we start to have problems. I don't have 30 acres to spare. What's worrisome is if it gets built up so much all the neighbors need to get together -- I can see that getting $$$ and complicated.

Housekeeping, thanks very much for the info. I'm also in NY. I'll get the book and need to talk to the DEC folks, who are actually in town but closed today.

Yikes, I gotta get into a canoe again I guess. I've done it before but it's not my favorite.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2007 at 11:48AM
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You won't lose 30 acres permanently, you'll just have a short term (could be anywhere from 2 to 6 or 7 years) period of waterworks, until the nearby food resource (trees) is exhausted. Then the beavers will move on and the land will undergo another transformation which I found was quite interesting in it's own way.

Diversion devices are very cheap to install (less than $200 worth of supplies) but sometimes time consuming to maintain as the beavs are determined critters and you're basically thwarting their intentions to keep the water level rising. But in order for them to work you have to install them in the correct place and I don't know if you will own the land where the correct place exists.

One good thing about beavers is that they make wetland areas more obvious so that may stall some nearby development for a few years.

You can also save a bit on your property taxes if you work with your assessor to have that portion of your land noted as wetland (even if it doesn't have DEC regulated status, it will likely have Army Corps jurisdiction). Just make that change before March 1 (in NY) in order to have it affect the next prop. and school tax cycle.

I hope you will enjoy the book. It's likely your library has a copy. I checked my local interlibrary system (Upper Hudson) and they have several. It's a somewhat dated take on wildlife appreciation, but it is also a very interesting read, especially if you've got 'em in your backyard already.

This weird warm winter has probably delayed the beavers' retreat to their den for the winter, but when it gets cold enough (and frozen) they will "disappear" for a few months only to reappear with their adorable kits in mid-spring. There is a big tree gnawing push before "hibernation" because they need to amass a huge depot of food near the den to tide them over until warm weather begins again. They are very vulnerable to predators on ice, and of course being air-breathig mammals have to surface which is impossible when there is thick ice.

You should get a bumper crop of wood ducks next spring if you put out nest boxes over the winter, along with all kinds of birds that need more water than just a stream. If you don't already have them you may begin to hear barred owls calling at night ("Who cooks for you; who, who, cooks for you-all?") My beavers flooded a mostly open meadow so I had different birds than you will get, but yours will be very interesting none the less. My normal pond is only about an acre, but when the beavers temporarily enlarged it to nearly thirty I had migrating ospreys visit, and the odd pass by bald eagles who normally stay closer to the rivers. (I live in the Hoosic/Hudson watershed.) I was relatively new here then and I was flabergasted with the bird life I saw. When the beavers left, the extraordinary number of species dimished somewhat because I lost a unique habitat. Enjoy your temporary boost while you have it.

You may find (to your relief, it sounds) that canoeing is out as the water probably isn't very deep and will be occluded by many hidden tangles of branches and stumps under the surface. It takes many years to decay away all that stuff to create clear water, prbably longer than the beavers will be there keeping the water levels up. If it freezes completely, you can venture out on the ice and look down to see what's there. The beavers will have cleared quite large channels to move their tree harvest and to get material for dam-making. Watching them at work is very amusing. Some of their structures will be transitory, but some of the main ones will last long after they leave. I haven't had beavers for more than 15 years and their lower dam is still visible and slowing water that flows down my creek. That's the significant benefit of beavers to an ecosystem: they transform it and make it much more productive, and water-cleansing for a long time afterward.

One of the things to keep in mind when reading the book is that it was written about the 30s and 40s. At that time beavers were almost completely extirpated from NY and seeing one was a rare treat. COnsidering the role of the beaver in our state's history, it was a very lucky thing that we have retained enough of them, and temporarily protected them, in order to maintain the big benefit they are to managing our wild areas.

They, like white tail deer, have recovered enough that now they are often a nuisance to our increasing suburbanization, but I believe they still have a vital role to play and it's important that we support and make accomodations where possible to keep them "beavering away" (LOL) on our behalf.

Enjoy your thumpers!


    Bookmark   January 2, 2007 at 4:51PM
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Molly, your post intrigued me so much that DH and I took a hike all the way down to the river. I didn't take the camera second time but there are two huge lodges clearly visible and built in the center of the pond over an area that was sort of a marshy island.

They have, indeed, gnawed down man trees along our side of the creek -- DH showed me the distinctive way they "cut". And there was a big stack of cut wood that I could steal for kindling!

Several were fresh so they may not be hibernating as yet. We're heavily wooded so I can't imagine they won't be here for quite some time.

We calculate that the pond is about 5 feet higher than before. It's never been this deep either as now only the top of the marsh grass is visible whereas before the islands it was growing on were clearly visible and the creek hardly moved.

There isn't a lot of development on our road and we back up against someone who has 68 acres.

We have owls already, woodpecks, bats, groundhogs, turkeys, snakes, the chippies and squirrels, deer, hawks and geese. Saw some ducks out there the other day. I haven't seen ospreys or eagles but the famous coyote strolled by and people talk about bears, though a bit farther north. I'll watch for those.

It appears to be deep enough to canoe on as the hand who helps me out with some of the heavy work in the yard has brought his several times and paddled around out there.

No ice here at all yet this year, not even a good hard freeze or even a snowflake. It feels like end October.

Thanks for the heads up about the taxes. We have our share of actual wetland so at least that's some good news.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2007 at 5:57PM
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Molly said "At that time beavers were almost completely extirpated from NY and seeing one was a rare treat. Considering the role of the beaver in our state's history."

I didn't realize you lived in NY. The iron seal over my range was salvaged from the West Side Highway - seal of the city of New Amsterdam, 1654. It has the trading logo of the Dutch West India Company and why did they come? Beavers. ;) See the beaver over the shield?

Yes, I've seen Chispa's beaver problem! Until recently, my dad own 1500 acres with a very wide stream (more like a river) and there were beavers there. He called it his beaver ranch...but they didn't do any widespread damage other than cut down a few trees.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2007 at 7:37PM
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Can't see the badge Allison; perhaps you'd post it again.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2007 at 10:50PM
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Housekeeping, you mentioned that the beavers would only be around for a short period, 2 to 7 years. From the research I did, before buying our house 2 years ago, the time frame that I saw quoted was closer to 20 years. We are currently in year 16 and see no signs that the pesky critters are packing their bags!!

    Bookmark   January 3, 2007 at 12:00AM
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    Bookmark   January 3, 2007 at 7:42AM
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Aww, look at the little guy down there. It's a great piece Allison.

Chispa, have your beavers expanded the water area very much over the 16 years? Was it fast or slow? Have you done anything or tried to?

    Bookmark   January 3, 2007 at 9:47AM
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Rococogurl, we've only been here 2 years, but some longtime residents explained that there used to be a small brook in the middle of the woods and you could walk there. The beavers moved in, built a dam and the area flooded very quickly. The area is about 30 acres, mostly conservation land. We have one acre under water. Even with the heavy rains we had this past year, the water level stays fairly constant. I'm assuming that this is due to the "beaver deceiver" overflow device, which allows some water to continue to flow through. Our town monitors this beaver pond because there is a town well nearby, which from what I've read, would be ruined/contaminated if flooded.

We aren't supposed to do anything! The main dam is pretty far from us and, I think, on private property. We recently discover a small dam at the back of our property. My husband took some of it apart and it immediately lowered the level of a small pond on our neighbors property by about a foot. The neighbors don't want a bigger pond either so we will probably work on it every few months.

This past year I was told that they were ammending the beaver protection laws, but I haven't followed through to see what changes were made. It doesn't matter as long as the water level stays constant and our septic system isn't affected.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2007 at 12:43PM
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The longevity of beavers in any one place is utterly dependant on whether the food supply (trees) holds out and of course, whether predators (mainly humans) intervene.

My beavers came and exhausted the accessible trees in just 4 years; there are more trees but only up an almost perpendicular slope from the water, so not really capturable, though they did try hard! The rest of the beaver habitat on my place where they lived was flatter with scrubby second growth of "popple", cherry, soft maple, etc. and they munched steadily through that.

OTOH, my Mother lived in Virginia on a small river and she had an active beaver lodge on her property for more than 15 years. The larger amount of water (mine was just a small creek to start with) allowed the beavers to forage farther afield and still return easily to the safety of their lodge. Her beavers were actually bank-living beavers and did not make the typical conical pile of sticks that most do. They are the same species, just had adapted to a different kind of habitat.

I dug out my copy of Beaversprite to see if it still appealed and I found it amusing all over again, so I renew my suggestion that anyone who wants a funny (but true) animal story hunt it down at the library. Fair warning though, like all animal stories it has its sad parts, too.

Thanks for posting the NY state seal. Those millions of furry beasts are what lured the Dutch up the river to begin with. They didn't name what is now known as Albany, Beverwyck on a whim.


    Bookmark   January 4, 2007 at 12:13AM
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Thanks to Molly's suggested I contacted the DEC. Haven't spoken to anyone yet but scanned the website where there is some useful info -- just plug in a state where we have ny.

It appears I can get someone out to look at the situation.

chispa, sounds like the overflow device you mentioned might do it for us as well. Our septic's high up but proactivity might be in order.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2007 at 8:05AM
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