Mostly Trapping

Beavers can impact one’s fishing — and the local ecosystem
Jan 17, 2019 12:43 ET

(Reprinted from above link)

I happened to drive by a small stream last week and, looking through the heavily falling snow, was amazed to see the area had changed completely. Many trees were down and a stout dam constructed from their branches. A large pond filled the stream bed and the typical dome shaped, carefully crafted pile of sticks and mud of a beaver lodge stuck up in the middle of the pond.

It appeared, true to the saying, that some beavers had indeed been busy.

Beavers, Castor canadensis, are among the largest rodents in the world. They average 23 to 39 inches in length and can weigh up to 60 pounds. Their thick fur is waterproof and their webbed feet propel them through the water, with the large, flat tail serving as a rudder. The tail is also used as an alarm to other beavers; a hard, sharp slap on the water warns others there’s danger near.

Since individual animals have personalities of their own, some bolder beavers have the ability to really irritate you at times. I’ve known several obnoxious ones who used their tails to repeatedly slap the waters where I’m fishing and, of course, this spooks the fish. The irate beaver isn’t interested in saving fish, it’s simply trying to force you to leave. In between powerful tail slaps, they can brazenly swim in tight circles, glaring at you, then another dive and explosion of water.

I’ve glared right back and had some choice words for beavers, but it never seemed to impress them.

The beaver is also known for its oversized front teeth. Those big chompers continue growing an entire lifetime, replacing what is worn away by their chewing. Coupled with very powerful jaws, beavers can gnaw chips of wood out of a soft tree, like poplar, almost an inch square and a quarter-inch thick or larger.

Though beavers usually dive and disappear when danger threatens, they will fight if cornered. One of the strangest stories I ever heard happened in New Hampshire not long ago.

A close friend of my brother, a young woman weighing about 120 pounds soaking wet, was a very dedicated runner. She ran every day with her two large dogs and was quite health conscious. This particular day in early winter she and her dogs dropped down into a small valley and, lo and behold, there in the middle of the road was a beaver industriously dragging a 10 foot, thickly limbed, aspen branch across to the dam on the other side of the highway.

When the two dogs saw the beaver only 20 yards ahead of them they bolted forward to the attack, their jaws snapping. The slight woman was jerked off her feet and, unfortunately, had the short leashes wrapped around her hand and wrist. The straining dogs dragged her forward rapidly, constricting the leash tightly around her hand; she was unable to let go.

Before she knew what was happening she was the center of a swirling, tangled melee of leaping, growling dogs, snagging branches, twisted leashes and one very angry beaver.

Now, you may not think it, but a beaver’s tail can be a powerful weapon and those teeth, large and razor sharp, can bite through things other than wood.

In this tangled battle, two dogs, jogger and beaver all literally touching one another, the beaver chomped down on the poor woman’s knee, severing cartilage, tendons and scouring bone. It bit the dogs as well while simultaneously knocking the tar out of them all with its tail. It was over in seconds, the victorious beaver diving over the bank and into the water, the girl and dogs left to take stock of their wounds.

The single bite to her knee was very serious and painful; she couldn’t stand and was bleeding heavily. Luckily, within minutes, a car appeared at this incredible scene, untangled her from the dogs, put a tourniquet on the leg, lifted her into the car and rushed to the hospital. The surgeries needed to repair the knee were extensive and it was two years before she started running again.

I don’t believe the dubious honor of being perhaps the only individual on earth to ever have been seriously bitten by a beaver was one she cared to claim.

Beavers are well-adapted for their aquatic life; having an oily, waterproof fur and nostrils equipped to close underwater, as do their ears. Not to be outdone, beaver eyes have a transparent membrane to protect them when submerged. Beavers can remain underwater for 15 minutes. Add their webbed feet and rudder-like tail and it’s easily seen how very much at home in the water they are.

Not all beavers build lodges in the center of their ponds. Many beavers live in larger streams and rivers. In these circumstances they dig holes in the banks; usually the entrance is underwater and the beaver tunnels back a few feet and excavate a larger living room, lined with foliage.

Beavers consume bark, leaves, twigs, grasses and other aquatic plants. They prefer aspen, poplar, willow and soft maple trees. I’ve seen the bark eaten completely off the trunks of large trees they’ve fallen.

Beavers mate from January to March. They have four kits weighing 9 to 21 ounces; the young are weaned in only two weeks. The young beavers stay with mom and dad until 2 years old, then leave to find their own homes. Young beavers will travel some distances to find a mate of their own when they turn 3.

Beavers can have a tremendous impact on the local ecosystem. If their dam floods your property it’s a problem indeed; they can be hard to get rid of. Originally, beaver dams helped open up areas in thick virgin forests. Their dams flooded the forest floor killing trees and letting in sunlight. Over the years the ponds or small lakes collected fallen leaves and other silts.

Once the beavers had exhausted the available food supply they abandoned the dam and moved on to another location. The abandoned dam soon broke and its bottom, now bare and covered with the highly fertilized silt quickly blossomed into a lush meadow. Their new dam repeated the cycle.

Beavers are a unique animal and fun to watch if you’re not fishing. Hopefully, you know a little more about them now.

However, I don’t suggest “tangling” with one, pun intended!

(Wade Robertson is an award-winning outdoor writer whose articles have been published in Pennsylvania Outdoor News, Pennsylvania Game News, Fur, Fish & Game and other publications. His email is wadewrites3006@gmail.com.)